Into the Wilds of Central America

This is an old missionary novel I picked up in a Honduran used bookstore some years back. Pretty unbelievable narrative, which I won't bother with mocking here, too easy. I took this picture before packing all my books to be moved to my office at AUC's new campus, which is currently closed for tours because—rumor has it—the place is overrun with desert rats. Heh. Don't tell 'em I told you.

Anyway, my Wednesday flight into the Wilds of Toncontín has been canceled. In first person from a dear friend who had been scheduled to fly out on May 30th,

The Tegucigalpa airport has a notoriously short runway, is surrounded by steep mountains and is located in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Everytime I land at this airport I contemplate mortality and invariably everyone claps when we land successfully. Today, as I waited with my boarding pass in my hand, the TACA plane on which I was to fly to Miami (on way to Equatorial Guinea) crashed as it was arriving to the Tegucigalpa airport from El Salvador. It did what one always expects airplanes to do at this airport: it went right off the end of the short runway, over a steep embankment and into a 4 lane highway. Both pilots were killed, a couple first class passengers, a few automobile passengers and one woman who was just (as luck would have it) walking down the sidewalk, minding her own business. People were panicking, but [my son] was delighted that I wouldn't be leaving yet. Feeling grateful now.

So, Toncontín has been closed for the panic to pass over, but thankfully (?) is reopening on Thursday. And that's when I'll be flying in.

I am so grateful for the extra day, because I have at least an extra week's worth of work to do, plus just enjoying Boston, and this at least has given me a chance at starting both. Of course, it means one less day in Honduras, which, given a really tight interview schedule already, is gonna be rough. There are so many things I need to find out in 19 short days.

But anyway, here's what I need to do today:

  1. Write a short promo blurb for my AK Press, Bluestockings, and other joint events I'm so excited to be doing this summer with my filmmaker friend Oscar Estrada
  2. Try to schedule more events, and press
  3. Put together a 20-page article on maquiladoras for revista TRACE, which I'm somewhat embarrassed to say I'm paying to have translated
  4. Write a 250-or-so-word abstract for an article stemming from my post/symposium talk on mercenaries and masculinity, hopefully to be published in Gender, Place and Culture
  5. Do the edits on my longish paper called "Solidarity Anthropology (or, How to Keep Healthcare from Becoming Science Fiction)" for Rachael and Roberto's edited Studying Up, Down, & Sideways volume- late!
  6. Email/call a bunch of people individually to catch up on my extensive backlog and plan for the chaos that awaits me when I return to SF in late June
  7. Get thinking more seriously about my project for the next few weeks, The "War on Crime" Extrajudicial Killings, Private Armies, and the Poor of Honduras
  8. Get a sim card for my cell phone, find some non-sweatshop walking shoes (harder than I'd imagined- you'd think I'd have known), buy a cheap watch so it can get stolen if necessary, mail a book to my dear friend Byron, its guardian angel, get maple sugar at the health food store (seriously a priority), etc., etc.

So, to expand on some of the latest version of #1, my pitch to venues, looks something like this:

Dear [awesome independent bookstore/theater],

I am writing to propose an book reading/film screening to take place on or about July X at [your venue]. Both the book and film deal with the impact of the War on Terror and Zero Tolerance (Giuliani) crime control policies in Honduras.

My new book, _Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras_, is with University of California Press (, but I'm hoping that it will appeal to something much broader than an academic audience. It's got gangs, drunks, Giuliani, Negroponte, Reagan, Clinton, W and Osama Bin Laden. It's also got maquiladora workers, general strikes, resistance fighters, evangelicals, Korean golfers, Blood In Blood Out, and much more. Something for everyone! The first paragraph of chapter one, Violence is at the end of this email.

What I have in mind is an afternoon or evening event dealing with myriad forms of violence in Honduras and the roles that the U.S. and Honduran governments, and corporations from all over the world, play in justifying, enabling and sustaining them. I want my book to serve as a tool for anyone fighting the hegemony of transnational corporations and the governments that serve them--not just a resource for anthropology classes. My friend Oscar just finished his documentary, _El Porvenir_, which has a facebook page at: If you speak Spanish, you can get a sense of his energy and where he's coming from from the youtube videos attached to that link. The film focuses on the massacre of 69 gang members at El Porvenir prison in the city of La Ceiba, Honduras in 2003. We are working together now since our topics and analyses overlap to a great extent, and since we share the goal of encouraging people to see the links between state brutality in Honduras, the War on Terror, U.S. oil wars, the prison-industrial complex and free trade zones (among other things)--and to do something about them.

I will be blogging from Honduras ( in June while researching the corporatization of crime control and its relation to health. In addition to a few scheduled SF Bay area appearances (listed on the above blog) and another July event at Bluestockings in Manhattan, we're currently looking at venues to hold screenings/readings in different parts of the U.S., including Boston, Philly, and Denver. We'd also welcome including other people doing work on related topics. It's not about us.

Many Thanks,
Adrienne Pine
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
The American University in Cairo

Chapter One: Violence
The first day I moved to the maquiladora town of Choloma in 1999, I saw a man die. I had been buying household supplies in a hardware store when I heard and felt a boom and the lights went out. I went outside to look, along with the owner and other customers, and saw a cable on the ground and a man lying motionless near a bicycle. The man began to convulse violently in what I assumed to be death throes until I noticed that the cable was actually tangled around and underneath him, electrocuting him as I watched. A crowd gathered rapidly and some men managed to drag the cable off him. I stood, impotent, with the other onlookers, oblivious to the fact that we were blocking the way of the police and the ambulance. Back in the hardware store the owner and a customer got to chatting about the man on the bicycle. They agreed that the current couldn’t have been that strong because otherwise he would have been charred. The owner remarked that it was because the cable had been hung wrong. He had noticed it a few days before spewing sparks in the rain. The municipality never takes care of these things, but anyway, he said, the bicyclist was only a drunk.

I need to get it down to 75 words. 717 is a little long.

Task #3, expanded, is to write a 20-page paper on:

“Tu eres gallo…pero la de los huevos soy yo”: producción y género en las maquiladoras de Honduras

The maquiladora industry in Honduras was made famous in the United States in 1996 when the clothing brand named for the princess of morning television, Kathie Lee Gifford, was found to be made by 13-year old girls. In fieldwork carried out between 1997 and 2003 among maquiladora workers and their employers in Honduras, I examined the intersections of notions of gender and progress. Honduran maquiladora workers are depicted by the the industry’s opponents as victims of an oppressive and abusive system. Spokespeople for the maquiladora industry, on the other hand, stress the opportunities being made available to young women and the industry’s modernizing impact in contrast to ever-present gang violence outside factory walls. There is little evidence of increased women’s employment in maquilas corresponding with societal progress in terms of access to and quality of education, public infrastructure, public safety, and increased life opportunities for young women and their families. Additionally, as in similar factories around the world, many Honduran women maquiladora workers are sexually harassed, suffer ill health effects, are denied basic labor rights, and face being fired for becoming sick or pregnant or for labor organizing. However, maquiladoras are viewed by many Hondurans, including young women themselves, as liberatory. As one taxi driver said to me, “la maquila ha venido a liberar a la mujer…ahora es libre para a ir a McDonald’s en San Pedro, libre para a ir al cine, libre a comprar ropa si quiere.”

Although maquiladora workers may be “liberated”—in this sense, as small-scale consumers—their newfound freedom has translated neither into significant standard-of-living increases nor greater prestige. In fact, by achieving a certain degree of economic independence at the same time that many of their male peers find themselves unemployable, operarias have come to represent both progress and danger. Young women and men continuously renegotiate appropriate gender roles at the same time as they negotiate their relationship to labor, Honduranness, violence and modernity. The vulnerability that Hondurans experience outside the factory is inextricably tied to their gendered experience inside the factory.

In this article I will examine the threat posed by maquiladora work to the patriarchy in Honduras, drawing on the theoretical work of Philippe Bourgois and Pierre Bourdieu, among others. I will argue that reconfigured notions of gender stemming from increased availablity of female employment in Honduran maquilas have weakened the position of men without providing a corresponding improvement in the long-term prospects of women. I will also show how women maquila workers, painted variously as liberated women, drunkards, victims, and whores, have resisted victimization by employers, family members and society in a broader context of everyday violence. I draw on ethnographic fieldwork done over a seven-year period, as well as video footage, audiotaped interviews, newspapers and scholarly articles.

I've got my work cut out for me. I'm hoping that the fact that I've already written and thought about this so much will be a help, not a hindrance. The next task, #4 abstract, hopefully won't take so long and is just the flip side of the above coin. Task #7 is the other big one. The primary purpose of my trip is:

The research I hope to carry out this summer in Honduras will provide me with the necessary ethnographic data to complete a chapter titled The "War on Crime" Extrajudicial Killings, Private Armies, and the Poor of Honduras, to be published in the volume The War Machine and Global Health: The Human Costs of Armed Conflict and the Violence Industry, ed. Merrill Singer and G. Derrick Hodge, Altamira Press, forthcoming 2009. The chapter I will write grows out of work I have been doing in Honduras over the past decade on violence and subjectivity. In my forthcoming book (see attached description) I examine links between the disease model of alcoholism, neoliberal economic policies benefiting the maquiladora/export-processing industry, and the zero tolerance method of crime control (imported by Rudolph Giuliani) that has resulted in the extrajudicial killings of many thousands of primarily poor young men and children. The ethnographic data used in the book spans the period from 1997 to 2004. Doing research in Honduras this summer will enable me to write about the current situation there, which is perhaps even more dire. The current president, Manuel Zelaya, has continued in the vein of his predecessor Ricardo Maduro who declared a "war on crime," by consolidating a neoliberal strategy of crime control. Responding to an under-funded and corrupt police force, Zelaya has given official state authority to the many private security companies operating in Honduras to use force in public situations, ostensibly to combat the problem of gang violence. These groups have been rightly called mercenary security by their domestic critics. Needless to say, this strategy has exacerbated the state of terror in which Hondurans live, and the "invisible genocide" (Scheper-Hughes 1982) being carried out with the tacit approval of the State. I found under President Maduro's zero tolerance that notions of the poor as dirty and diseased- as Orwell has pointed out in examining the question why "The Lower Classes Smell"- served to justify attacks on them, which I argue amounted to a campaign of extermination.(Orwell 1958) The closely related equation of an entire social class with disease (including the "disease" of alcoholism, an idea promoted by Alcoholics Anonymous) was accepted by rich and poor alike, despite the often fatal consequences for the latter.

In my field work this summer and in the chapter I will write, I will examine the changes in discourse and practice surrounding the increasing corporatization of crime control in recent years. I ask: How are Hondurans’ lives and health affected by the actions of private, state-sanctioned domestic armies? I will focus on three primary health-related issues: first, the broadly-defined health outcomes of direct victims of the State "war on crime"; second, the everyday health problems that grow out of the kinds of neoliberal policies tied to the destruction of the public sector and concomitant increase in corporate power and privatization of crime control; third, the various social and cultural functions of the idea of disease in conjunction with the war on crime. I will interview several human rights and health workers with whom I have already made contact. I also hope to meet with the researchers at the recently formed “Observatorio de la Violencia” research center of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH). Additionally, I intend to interview representatives of private security agencies, state police and government agencies responsible for the privatization of security in Honduras. I am in the process of arranging these interviews; I do not expect much difficulty in gaining access to official sources, since I have done so before. I will also carry out participant observation with various informants and friends living in gang-labeled areas of the capitol Tegucigalpa and North Coast cities of San Pedro Sula and La Lima. I will adhere to standard human subjects procedure for protecting my informants, including the use of pseudonyms in field notes and any resulting publications, and fully informed consent. I do not anticipate complications in this regard, since due to time constraints I will be working primarily with public figures and people whom I already know quite well.

This research will add to the theoretical literature on neoliberalism and exclusion, discourses of criminality, and the global “war machine.”(e.g., Caldeira and Holston 1999; Wacquant 2003; Wacquant 2008) It will provide an increasingly necessary counterbalance to the focus on individual deviance absent a full analysis of structural violence, a focus that pervades not only media reports on Honduras, but also much of the social science literature on gangs.(for notable exceptions see: Carter 2001; Hagedorn 2007; Hayden 2004; Vigil 2002; Zilberg 2004) In addition, this work will complement the growing body of medical anthropology seeking to understand the harm done by institutional violence to human bodies and lives from a political economic perspective. (e.g., Baer, et al. 2003; Bourgois 1995; Briggs 2004; Castro and Singer 2004; Farmer 2004; Farmer 1999; Kleinman 2000; Scheper-Hughes 1992; Singer 1986) There is a dearth of anthropological literature about Honduras, despite its strategic place in Cold War and colonial American history. By focusing on this academically neglected country I hope to highlight the apparently disparate global processes coalescing there; to name a few: human illness and suffering, wars on drugs and terror originating in the United States, computerized crime control, Israeli security companies’ prison contracts, recruiting for Blackwater forces in Iraq, Central American gangs, the perceived threat of Al Qaeda, IMF international lending policies, the genocidal logic of “cleansing” populations, new forms of worker control, the spread of evangelical Christianity, and corporate-controlled health care.

Sources cited:
Baer, Hans A., Merrill Singer, and Ida Susser
2003 Medical anthropology and the world system. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
Bourgois, Philippe I.
1995 In search of respect : selling crack in El Barrio. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Briggs , Charles L.
2004 Theorizing Modernity Conspiratorially: Science, Scale, and the Political Economy of Public Discourse in Explanations of a Cholera Epidemic. American Ethnologist 31(2):164-187.
Caldeira, Teresa P. R., and James Holston
1999 Democracy and Violence in Brazil. Comparative Studies in Society and History 41(4):691-729.
Carter, Jon
2001 'Forgive Me Mother, For My Crazy Life': Street Gangs, Motherdom, and The Magic of Symbols in Comayagüela, Honduras, Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College.
Castro, Arachu, and Merrill Singer
2004 Unhealthy health policy : a critical anthropological examination. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press.
Farmer, Paul
2004 On Suffering and Structural Violence: A View from Below. In Violence in war and peace : an anthology. N. Scheper-Hughes and P.I. Bourgois, eds. Pp. 281-289. Blackwell readers in anthropology. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub.

1999 Infections and inequalities: the modern plagues. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Hagedorn, John
2007 Gangs in the global city : alternatives to traditional criminology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Hayden, Tom
2004 Street wars : gangs and the future of violence. New York: New Press.
Kleinman, Arthur
2000 “The Violences of Everyday Life: The Multiple Forms and Dynamics of Social Violence”. In Violence and subjectivity. V. Das, ed. Pp. 226-241. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Orwell, George
1958 The road to Wigan Pier. San Diego: Harcourt Brace.
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy
1982 Small Wars and Invisible Genocides. Social Science and Medicine 43(5):889-900.

1992 Death without weeping : the violence of everyday life in Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Singer, Merrill
1986 Toward a Political Economy of Alcoholism: The Missing Link in the Anthropology of Drinking. Social Science and Medicine 23(2):113-130.
Vigil, James Diego
2002 A rainbow of gangs : street cultures in the mega-city. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Wacquant, Loïc
2003 Toward a dictatorship over the poor? Notes on the penalization of poverty in Brazil. Punishment and Society 5(2):197-205.

2008 Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Zilberg, Elana
2004 Fools Banished from the Kingdom: Remapping Geographies of Gang Violence between the Americas (Los Angeles and San Salvador). American Quarterly 56(3):759-779.

Okay, better get started.