Last notes of the summer

In the morning of July 19th, I walked toward where I had remembered the Colegio de Enfermeras as being, near the Hotel Honduras Maya. I was completely wrong. Still suffering from sleep deprivation from two nights earlier, I stumbled around, unwisely lugging my laptop and everything else I'd brought from my week of travel to the north coast around the streets of Tegucigalpa. At a smaller luxury hotel, I asked the doormen if they knew where the Colegio was. They directed me to the ANEAH instead, but luckily I realized that and kept asking. I finally managed to dig up an actual address with points of reference (the Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture and a Chinese restaurant)—I'd been too tired to think of that earlier—and got decent directions to a place that seemed far, far away. But before leaving I asked if the hotel sold tea. Sure, they said, right inside, go in there.

I went in and looked at the closed door to the hotel lobby restaurant, and looked back at the guard. Go in, he gestured. So I went in to the closed establishment, and the guy at the bar asked how he could help. Did they have green tea? Why yes. He produced a green box of some strange flavor of herbal fruit tea. I stifled a laugh. I mean, green tea. He showed me a teabag, insisting that it was green. No, I explained, there's a kind of tea that's called green. It's not the color of the bag. The Garifuna chef knew what I was talking about and rolled his eyes at his coworker, who kept looking. I said it didn't matter, really, any tea would do. That bag of Earl Grey there- perfect. He handed me the teabag, and I asked how much it would be. No, it's free, no problem. I thanked him profusely. I paused. Could I get a cup? And, maybe some water? Oh, he said. Okay. He got out a thin plastic cup. I was starting to feel like a jerk, but asked if I could maybe have something that could handle hot water? He found and proudly produced a styrofoam cup, and filled it with water for my free Earl Grey teabag. I thanked him again profusely, and walked back out. Two lessons: 1) white privilege, 2) coffee culture.

On the way from my mistaken address to the real one up by Bulevar Morazán, I walked by this curious collection of death-porn/death/porn. Top: Executed, then thrown into a river. Underneath that: No one can stop the debauchery! [on the ever-present menace of reggaeton in high schools] or, This train has no brakes! and bottom right: Lady judge dies in traffic accident.

Near the first hotel, one of my favorite written slogans, an unintentional double entendre that can be seen on signs and walls all over Honduras. No votar basura. Literally, don't vote trash. Phonetically, don't dump trash. But in Spanish, there are all sorts of possible iterations of the short phrase, depending on where you put the emphasis. In any case, it seems to have little effect...

Side note: it's always funny to me how much better I can spell in Spanish than most native speakers (yet how much worse I still speak it, after over 20 years), and how counterintuitive spelling is in general; fixing a language in an historical moment that never really was, and will never be. The new norms of text-message spelling (generationally divided as in English) in Spanish have been fun to learn as well, this summer. As usual in Honduras, a high preference for the K and W, but lots of new creative initialisms.

I arrived at the Colegio de Enfermeras still with enough time to test the projector with my laptop and get some more hot water for my precious caffeine-delivery system.

Not as many nurses as were expected could come. The night before there had been a cadena nacional ordering many of them to assemble at the offices of COPECO (The Permanent Contingency Commission) at the same time that we'd scheduled the seminar (capacitación). In what seemed like a really bad joke, Proceso later that day wrote an article about it, titled Constituyen Frente Nacional de Resistencia contra el Dengue—National Resistance Front Against Dengue is Formed.

But you should already know what I think about Lobo's State of Emergency.

While we were waiting for more people to show up, the nurses spoke of different experiences they had had during the worst of the coup violence. The nurse who had organized the event told of a time when she had had to protect a doctor from the police. Dr. Edgaro Valeriano, she told me, who himself had been part of the medical brigade that had been in Alauca [during the pilgrimage to the Nicaraguan border to greet Zelaya in July 2009], arrived to the Hospital Escuela emergency room on her shift beaten and bloodied, and the police were insisting on taking him out of the hospital. She said, "The police could have killed me, they could have taken their pistol and shot me, but I would not have budged. You lose your fear." ("Uno pierde el miedo.") The other doctors didn't want to attend him, she said, saying he'd deserved what he'd got. "Los chafas y la policia son puros perros que andan detrás de los huesos de la carne que ya han golpeado," she said. "The soldiers and cops are nothing but dogs going after the bones of the meat they've already attacked."

Another nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, told me of how she had seen Pedro Magdiel get arrested. He was detained in Alauca when he'd been smoking a joint with two friends. When the police came, the two friends managed to run off in time and not get caught, and were protected by the crowd that came over, but the other young man did not. This was around 3:30 or 4pm and the police took him in for the night. Although the nurse and the rest of the crowd wished they could get him out, he had, after all, been smoking a joint, and they thought, okay, we'll get him back in 24 hours. At 5am the next morning, having never left police custody, they found him, his body utterly destroyed. "Common crime," the police claimed, to the horrified indignation of the nurse and other witnesses. Sarcastically commenting on the serve and protect slogans on police vehicles, she asked rhetorically, "qué va a servir al pueblo si es para reprimir al pueblo que les preparan?" "How can they serve the people, if they are trained only to repress us?"

Further discussing the police, the same nurse said "a mi me agarran que me matan en el momento"—"If they capture me, let them kill me right then and there." The torture she had seen bodily terrified her. She complained about Billy Joya and Robert Carmona (whose name she didn't remember, but whom she described as el venezolano aquel que se mete mucho en los asuntos de nosotros). She said Julieta es de lo más golpista que puede haber...yo aplaudía como la gente en la U les corrieron a la policía con las mismas granadas de ellos ("I applauded when the people in the U ran the police out by picking up and throwing their own grenades back at them").

Influenced by numerous friends in high places, I've held back on the critique of Julieta Castellanos. Sitraunah, after all, her main adversary, is no model of virtue. It's historically been allied with the far right wing, and has been hugely corrupt. And I was so impressed by the conference on Democracy and Governability, even if her own discourse at the event was unconvincing. I have regretted writing about without double or triple fact-checking the report I heard on Radio Globo about her accusing the hunger strikers of having eaten. It seemed to low to be true, and I later found she claims to not have said that...anyway, writing about this when a year ago today, when the UNAH's autonomy was violated and police teargassed the heck out of the students and beat up Julieta herself [despite the photographic evidence, she later claimed she fell on her own accord—everyone claims she herself called the police in, but she denies it], and when two days ago, apparently with her go-ahead, police entered again, again teargassing and savagely beating students and workers, I don't think I can go on trying to see the bright side. Except, of course, the bright side that she has so royally pissed off the students that the resistance seems once again in full swing. I'm waiting for Oscar Estrada's analysis.

The nurse who'd been speaking about Dr. Valeriano was collecting stories of struggle for the Ovaries in Resistance group to advance the agendas of the feminist socialist woman and GLTBIQ community.

When I finally got around to the presentation, we had a lively conversation, and really well received. As much as I tend to think of Latin American syndicalists as being leagues ahead of their inward-looking counterparts in the U.S., it's always good to have space to sit back and reflect. And even while in Honduras (compared with the U.S.) I've found most nurses to have a deeper immediate understanding of structural violence and a vocabulary for neoliberalism, talking about the contract and political achievements of CNA/NNU nurses always leaves behind a room of starry eyes and dropped jaws. Nurse-to-patient ratios? Lift protections? Standing up to Schwarzenegger and winning? Really???

There was a great response to my slides on the IMF. "We call [him] Papa Fondo," one nurse said to me and the group, "because [he's] the one who always tells us what we have to do" ("Papa Fondo le decimos al FMI porque es él que nos dice que tenemos que hacer").

And somewhere in the discussion of corrupt politicians using populist rhetoric to mask their privatization schemes that exacerbated the root causes of ill health, it came up that the Primero los Pobres campaign was of Ricardo Alvarez, the mayor of Tegucigalpa/president of the National Party. They scoffed at his techos dignos campaign, claiming that it was mostly hot air. "Iba a las colonias en la campaña a poner láminas pero era para tomar fotos"—"He went to the poor neighborhoods to distribute tin roofing but it was just a photo op."

After an hour and a half of animated discussion of Honduran healthcare, neoliberalism, and the possibilities for international nurse unionism, we had a tasty lunch from a local restaurant in styrofoam containers, and wrapped up. One of the nurses offered me a ride to the U. Getting into her vehicle outside the building (where all the guards were resistance) I scribbled down "nurses all drive big pickups."

Across the street, parked outside the SCAD, this bibliobus sat unused:

I wrote the former Minister of Culture, the eminent historian Rodolfo Pastor, to ask if that has been his idea. He responded that he hates taking credit for ideas, ideas are out there and it's just a matter of putting them into action. The mobile theater groups, the traveling book suitcases, and the bibliobus, he wrote, were ideas that arose with the aim of addressing the deficiencies of a cultural institution/institutionalized culture that has no way to establish facilities for permanent cultural services. The Swedes, he said, had helped financially with the bibliobus project when he was minister. "But the thing is, to make it work, you have to train people and put gas in it and send it off, because otherwise it stays there, parked in front of the Ministry."

There was a big traffic jam, so I got to enjoy the walls that I normally passed too quickly.

[Pastor] Evelio [Reyes] Golpista of the Devil:

A road block on the main road just outside the presidential palace:

Ah, yes, and this. Part of the campaign to discredit public education to privatize it. Mediocre students, to the UNAH. The longer subtitle makes clear that the content is more a class-based attack on who gets in than an assessment of the quality of education there (although the UNAH is also blamed). And check this out: since I'm such a piss-poor typist [if NSH can type with two fingers, then so can I], I just did a scroogle search to find the full headline, and discovered you can download pdfs of all El Heraldo's portadas. What a goldmine. Here's the link to this one.

UNAH's scholastic aptitude test reveals that mid-level students continue to score very low in verbal reasoning and mathmatical comprehension. Students from bilingual schools in the capital receive the best results. The worst results, [students from] public schools.

Prueba de Aptitud Académica de la UNAH revela que egresados del nivel medio siguen aplazados en razonamiento verbal y comprensión matemática. Los mejores resultados los obtienen egresados de colegios bilingües de la capital. Los peores, los públicos.

Back at my friend's house the next morning, I snapped a picture of a graphic I'd been meaning to record.
Michelleti the hen: "I am the owner of the huevos" (Goriletti). "Thanks to these cocks I was able to lay the huevos."
(Romeo Vasquez and his Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, the cocks)
Mel the stallion: "I am a real macho and I don't need to lay huevos, I am macho because I work for my people" (Mr. President Manuel Zelaya).

At a plaza near UNAH later that day, before taking a cab into Comayagüela to catch the bus to San Pedro, another store selling exclusively maquila products ("recognized brands, export quality"):

In the same plaza, a FICOHSA branch. One of the ways FICOHSA makes money is through its exclusive contracts with various companies that only pay their workers into FICOHSA bank accounts. If they don't get a FICOHSA account, they don't get paid. This is apparently a common practice in Honduras. I first discovered this racket when I was subjected to it at AUC (obviously through a different bank), and was appalled. Frighteningly, it seems to have become quickly normalized on an international scale. This branch explicitly prohibited:

  • carrying guns
  • smoking
  • using cell phones
  • wearing dark glasses
  • wearing baseball hats

In the cab (the cabbie turned out to be the boyfriend of a cousin of a friend I was sharing a ride with; they gossiped about their families the whole way there), I saw a freakish sight. Joggers.

They were gringos, of course. They were so out of place that I had to take a second picture.

In the bus as the sun went down over Comayagüela, I managed to get a far-too-fuzzy shot of this brilliant liquor-store artistry.

The next morning, on a break from nervously preparing for my interview with don Jaime Rosenthal, I went to get my cup of San Pedro green tea. I took this MS graffiti shot just because, like the one I'd seen in Limón, it now seemed so strangely dated, like a time-travel back to 2003. I laughed to myself about Luther and his Movimiento Socialista quip.

A guard leaned tenderly into the embrace of the life-sized Colonel on the bench outside the KFC. It was the second time I'd had the chance to take a picture of that perfectly beautiful image, and once again, I lost the nerve to ask. I'm sure he would have been delighted to have me take it; he even smiled and waved as I walked past (perhaps misinterpreting my look of longing), saying "adios."

Underneath the Cafeteria Gourmeth, a message: camelleros golpistas. Camel-riding golpistas. I wondered if the owners of the establishment were of Arab descent, or if it was just that there happened to be wall space available.

The night before, lawyer for a group of campesinos with the National Agrarian Institute and for the fired SITRAUNAH workers, and active FNRP member Marco Tulio Amaya was murdered. The coverage in El Tiempo was consistent with Rosenthal's argument in our interview that it is irresponsible to ascribe a political motivation to murders of resistance leaders when the rate of common violent crime is so ridiculously high. Amaya's name isn't a focus, neither is his politics on this cover:

The interview itself will require some more work on my part to put together. I have a few pages of notes and video. I left there with respect for the man. He is unquestionably very, very smart, and I agreed with him almost as much as I disagreed with him.

Afterward I wandered through the Plaza de la Libertad one more time. I got a couple pupusas, and determined that I like Tegucigalpa street pupusas better than San Pedro ones. I walked through the cathedral, which used to be the best pickup spot for gay men in San Pedro, according to trustworthy sources. It may still be. The children's "values of life" campaign was being advertised...I had to wonder what, precisely, those values were in this Opus Dei church...golpismo, denial of women's rights, class [self-]hatred, teaching children to hate LGBTQ people (and consequently in many cases themselves)?

Campaigns that speak of values, not justice, all seem to share certain components (e.g., family values, moral majority). Walking around the near-empty cathedral, I wished I'd made it out to Progreso one more time before leaving, out to Santa Rosa, out to all the places where Catholic priests and laypeople are en plena lucha, resisting the dead logic of abstract morality, asserting their and el pueblo's place within the Church as proponents of liberation.

I had a morning flight the next day, and took a photo of one of the trinkets I'd picked up the day before. I'd say no comment on this one...but I can't help myself. I have to. A week before the news came out that the ADL had managed to designate the swastika as a universal symbol of hate, I bought this from a guy who was also selling saint necklaces and a variety of weed-themed paraphernelia. I'm not saying the swastika is a good symbol, or that I would ever wish it to be used. Quite the contrary. But just as it would be silly to argue that Che and circle A are being blasphemed here (and I'm sure others would take issue at the commercialization of weed, rastafarianism, yin-yang, and pirates), one has to be careful about assuming any signifier corresponds universally to one and only one signified. There are no universal signs: it would be linguistically and anthropologically irresponsible to argue such a thing, and would prevent us from seeing that, along with various other symbols of rebellion (there was a peace sign on the other side), to some Hondurans the swastika merely means "cool." It means "edgy." It is nothing but a fetish, just as it was for Noel, the former Contra soldier I knew as a fellow student at UDLA just after war—he had one as a tattoo. "Do you know what that MEANS!!??" I asked, horrified, at the time. But he didn't know what it meant, or at least what it meant to me. He had had no idea.

What you do with that fact is then up for grabs. Is it an opportunity for education? Absolutely. But the hate does not reside in the signifier. Each swastika must be examined in its own terms, lest we replicate the same totalizing logics that lead to things we don't like to think about.

A friend drove me to the airport. She kindly slowed down for me to take a parting graffiti shot. "I LOVE TURCOS. SELLOUT [as in, selling out its own people to the Arab Hondurans] ARMY."

In the airport, as always, numerous groups of identically tee-shirted missionaries:

An ad for "the first cutting-edge technology business park in Central America, in sync with perfection, Rise to the highest level where your ideas sync to an environment created for perfect business"

The white woman in her 60s from Denver sitting next to me on the plane to Houston was returning from a few weeks volunteering in some orphanage in El Porvenir, a gig she'd come across on a volunteer website, I think this one. She was somehow also connected to PeaceWork ("Global Partenerships for Integrated Development") (...). She talked about the culture of violence, how it starts so young. She hadn't heard of the prison massacre, and kind of seemed like she didn't really believe me. She spoke about how violence starts so young- she had to teach the teen mothers to not hit their daughters, and the most difficult thing with the kids at the orphanage, she said, was to try to convince them to respect other people because they are human.

She told me she was a Nurse Practitioner (after non-commitally responding to my mention of my nurse-unionizing activities). She told me she had been a sexual assault counselor, as a way of prefacing her concern for Honduran women's morality. She knows, knows that you're not supposed to say it, after all, since she's been a sexual assault counselor. But did I notice that woman who got the plane, with practically no clothes on at all?? She wondered, she knows she's not supposed to ask it, but she just wondered if wearing such provocative clothes might lead to sexual assault. Honduran women dressed so provocatively, and their were such high rates of rape...

I tried to explain a little bit about cultural context, as an anthropologist, and not show my disgust. Then I borrowed her Prensa, for a last view at Honduran print media for the trip.

Special Section: Modern evironments, Living with elegance. Funny thing is, it looks more to me like living in jail. But I guess when the bars are orange they don't imprison as much.

Destructured poverty (the fault of the poor, who are like swine):
"It's not the lack of capital that allows me to survive; the lack of will keeps me alive..."

The Opinion page lauds Julieta Castellanos, who states: "We will proceed with the criminal actions we already have pending in the courts, adding new elements in order to continue the case against the executive committee (of Sitraunah)."

Clearly, the whole court strategy got old, since they brought in the cops last week to teargas the U.

I don't get this cartoon, which is about Lobo's government being reintegrated into SICA. The joke is in the hand gestures, and I'm missing it. Is it that SICA is kinda pushing him away, and Lobo's saying "Yay! I'm in!"?

Yet another violence prevention committee. They'd be comical if they weren't actually abetting the real violence. "One of the strategies is to promote opportunities for youth in vulnerable zones."

Hooray for the military, saving the country from dengue [sic]:

A number of loose ends I've been meaning to fit in somewhere:

Luther tells me after spending weeks at a time community organizing, seeing patients, rounding up donations of equipment and working to enhance the cooperation with Cuban and other international medical teams, he'd go to Tegucigalpa, and the people in the frente would say "¿dónde te has perdido?" Where the hell do you think I've been, he'd tell the cafe-going capitalinos, whose main idea of resistance was marches, marches and more marches. I've been in resistance, creating community. That IS resistance.

Javier's aunt, a Col Kennedy political activist with the National Party, was in charge of counting the ballots at her polling station for her party last November. But she had a wake to go to that night, and she later told Javier it had been a really long day, and the representatives from the other parties were exhausted too, and so they cut their usual deal to divy up the votes along expected lines and went home early.

Ortes Colindres's nickname is rata peinado. I though that was just what Jorge called him, but it turns out that everyone calls him a groomed rat.

Jonny and Jorge decided that I'd picked a good pseudonym in Jonny, because it was good and gay, but that Jorge didn't really sound gay enough.

And just in case I needed it, Jonny gave me this:


What is the difference between being smart and being predatory?

There are people who are intelligent at many things and those who are only at certain things, like at taking advantage of others. These are the "fittest" of society. They can have a higher education and have very persuasive arguments, especially when being self-aware of their money and power they use it trying to convince others of what is convenient only to them. However, their arguments remain unconvincing because they are narrow-minded and limited to their own convenience. I don't call that smart at all.

One could argue that a person can be predatory and clever at it, but smart in general? Is having loads of money and power an indicator of intelligence? Having stomach to think how to do a lot of disgusting things to others in order to fill your pockets is more like it.

In a world of injustice, where many fight it, it is hard to respect someone who is responsible for great levels of injustice like Mr. Rosenthal. There are people who are robber barons not because of the sole fact of being rich, since it is not a crime to be rich, but often, some are rich because of how they have obtained their fortunes and how they increase them, i.e. by stealing from others.

Ironically, he was commenting recently on his newspaper how "there are millions of Hondurans who don't own banks and that does not mean that tomorrow they are allowed to go assault a bank institution. The same happens with millions of Hondurans, who because of the fact of not owning homes, they are not allowed to go invade another citizen's property"
This was said in reference to the Aguán campesinos "invading" Miguel Facusse's lands. It is of course, unthinkable that a rich man is the one invading poor people's lands, since it is "common sense" to know that rich people do not have the need to invade other peoples' properties for they have enough money, less poor peoples'.

But, you see, I said "ironically" because it is banks who assault the people who don't own banks, the poorer people, the working class people who are defenseless and have no means to defend themselves, hence are more vulnerable prey and the owners of these banks are often seen as superpeople with superpowers who achieved with "hard work" (hard work at swindling in many cases) as in Ayn Rand's world. The worst thing is that they leave absolutely no traces of their crimes, they are clever at not leaving solid evidence, even though it is blatantly obvious that they did it, because they want society to see them as the respectable, honorable men they are not, they care about their prestige, because this is how they can remain unpunished increasing their fortunes illegally by swindling even more people who thought he was an honest man, so that new people fall into the trap. That is the discrete charm of the bourgeoisie and why they are so very, very smart and makes one respect them.

If a man like this swindles, say 100 people through his bank, and has people in the Supreme Court, in the Parliament to explicitally take care of his interests and make him win all trials, even when he is the crime perpetrator, does it mean that he is always right? Money can make you be always right and be the smartest guy. If he does this to 100 working class people who worked hard with the wish to buy a home (certainly not assault the money to get this home) but it is the bank who assaults them, I wonder what he does to the majority of the population having easy access to state institutions? I don't want to know. Here is a little bit more about it:

No one who fights injustice sincerely can have respect for someone like that, otherwise one loses respect for someone who says they fight injustice who has respect for someone like that. In fact, it is disheartening.