Caso Gasolinazo

I spent all day yesterday writing and uploading, and barely got a page into my maquiladora paper, which technically should write itself. My inactivity didn't stop me from getting enough new information to oblige me to spend a similar amount of time writing today, but I'll try to cut it short. I'll never be able to leave the house (apart from going to the slowest internet café in the world) at this rate.

I chatted with Teto a few times yesterday- he was in and out of the house. He and his new wife and baby boy are planning to move to Germany, where she's from, in a month. He made it quite clear to me, when I expressed pleasure for him, that it was only a personal escape, not a solution. It was painful, he said, to not be able to do anything about the terrible situation in Honduras and to leave his friends and family, but it was better for the child. He's been trying to get out of the country since I met him, and his good looks and charm have finally paid off. He's studying German and is impressed by the number of things you can say in that language that there aren't concepts for in Spanish or English. They have a plan to bring two of his younger brothers along later.

Elena, too, is hoping to go to Germany, with the help of a good friend who came here to do some sort of HIV-related project five years ago. She's got good reason. She's blacklisted from work here, given her outspoken political views, and also is convinced that she won't find a partner in Honduras. With Daisy in France, Andrea in Louisiana with her U.S. military husband and their daughter, and those four in Germany, it's starting to look like a family exodus. They don't have any money, but they sure know how to network.

Soon after I walked the block back from the internet café around four in the afternoon, a friend of Elena's pulled up on her motorcycle. Elena introduced me to her as Suyapa, a talented Honduran poet, to which Suyapa laughed and rolled her eyes. Despite her humility, it's indeed true. She gave me one of her books of poetry, which she happened to have on hand, and it had some great stuff.

They spoke excitedly about the hunger strike being undertaken by 8 anti-corruption lawyers downtown, at the same time expressing deep cynicism about its potential effectiveness. "Aquí no te puedes martirizar porque la muerte no importa," said Suyapa. "You can't martyr yourself here because death doesn't matter." The sign I took a picture of yesterday in SPS is linked with the hunger strike, they tell me. The protesting lawyers are not Consejo Nacional de la Anticorrupción, who according to Elena are "los que se lavan los trapos al gobierno," "the ones who wash the government's dirty laundry." Suyapa lent me some of the strikers' propaganda to photocopy. On seven photocopied pages stapled together it lists 22 "de los muchos casos" (of the many cases) that they want to see prosecuted. Among them:

  1. CASO PRAF-SALUD, in which Elias Lizardo, former minister of health under Maduro and Elizabeth de Mazariegos, director of the Programa de Asignación Familiar, put on some massive conference on the topic of covering healthcare for contract workers. The funds distributed at the conference amounted to around L.525 million of public funds (between 25 and 40 million dollars!!?, depending on the date), and were apparently given to people who don't, technically, exist. Needless to say, there is no record of the projects' results.
  2. CASO CONOCIDO COMO CONSTRUCCION DE AULAS NUMERO 6-A. Something to do with Ana Belén Castillo, rector of UNAH, and some poorly thought out university buildings into which excessive public funds were sunk, and which were never completed. Elena tells me that Belén Castillo was caught trying to flee the country in disguise after she had been caught in some dirty busines, but that now she heads up a super-fancy private university, la Universidad Tecnologica de Honduras.
  3. CASO CONOCIDO COMO DE LA ALCALDÍA MUNICIPAL against ex-mayor Miguel Rodrigo Pastor, for diverting funds meant for public workers' salaries.
  4. CASO BANCORP, in which said bank, headed by Victor Bendeck, is accused of disappearing a lot of cash (estafa) from people's bank accounts, which the state had to reimburse to the tune of 900 million lempiras (a whole lot of money).
  5. CASO PAGO PERIODISTAS (my personal fave), in which the ex-Atty. General, Ovidio Navarro Duarte, is accused of buying the silence of numerous journalists. Apparently they've got copies of some of the checks.

Dammit, I just don't have the time to list them all, but they also include:

  • various millions of Bolivares donated from the first lady of Venezuela (la señora Chavez) donated for a program called "a cup of milk" for poor children, diverted by then mayor Vilma Antonieta Reyes widow of Castellanos from its intended beneficiaries and never seen again.
  • A U.S. company called Trescom somehow left Hondutel (state telephone company) millions of dollars in debt, and another case against private insurance company Intercasa run by a Rafael Ferrari, which never paid Hondutel for covered damages suffered during Hurricane Mitch. Hooray for privatization!
  • The pasaportazo...continued? This was the big scandal in 1997. Actually, then, it was the chinazo because the passports were being sold to citizens from various Asian countries. Sergio Diaz, assistant to the current fiscal, has apparently been once again making unauthorized passports. The injured party is listed as: "La fé pœblica": The public trust.
  • A lot of cases having to do with gasoline, including my favorite-named one, CASO GASOLINAZO in which a whole lot of gas was imported into the country between 2002 and 2004 by private companies which the fiscal neglected to tax, depriving the country of around 75 million Lempiras in public funds. A fair amount of the profits obtained went to finance the campaigns of National Party candidates.
  • CASO AVIONAZO, in which a USD$12 million luxury plane with Mexican pilots mysteriously landed in Toncontín, was abandoned by its pilots who disappeared hours later with the assistance of immigration officers, and was later auctioned off for a mere USD$736K. And nothing more was told the citizenry.

Elena mentioned that the Cardinal had come out against the strikers, because, he said, the strike was unconstitutional. Could you believe it? Unconstitutional? What a concept of justice. I was disappointed but not surprised. I met the Cardinal himself, walking down the street one night in San Pedro when Teto and I were in some sort of altered state. Full-on robes, well over six feet of His Cardinalness stood in front of us, and an enthusiastic Teto ridiculously exclaimed to him, "¿Verdad que usted es famoso?" "Aren't you somebody famous?"
"Yes, my son," the cardinal replied, "I am the cardinal."
I mustered, "Very nice to meet you, señor cardenal," and dragged Teto away so that, once out of earshot, we could burst into a fit of giggles. Not my most professional fieldwork moment. Anyway, the cardinal has made himself quite rich and powerful, and does not do a very good job of following the advice of my young friar friend (discussed in yesterday's post): "one must disobey unjust laws." I suppose I could also quote Martin Luther King here, but with a name like Martin Luther, I think the Catholic church might not be as receptive.

Anyway, they went on to extensively badmouth the cardinal for his stance vis-à-vis the hunger strikers. He's super-conservative, rich, and powerful. And he's gay and everybody knows it! I stop them there. Oh, come on, that's just gossip. "No, he has his chavito [in English this probably would have been said as alterboy, but just means boy]. And he's featured in all the fashion magazines [using the word "fashion" in English, not moda]." I continue expressing doubt, telling them that it's just a discrediting gossip strategy. Both Suyapa and Elena, who has worked for over a decade now as one of the principal advocates for [whoa- what word to use here- nothing in English captures non-normative sexual identity categories in Honduras] gays in Honduras, continue insisting. His boy lives right here in Miraflores, Elena says, and there's a big gay community just over the hill. And [former president] Carlos Flores once said publicly, when the Cardinal was causing him trouble, "Don't say anything bad about me, because I know things about you," and the cardinal shut up. What's more, she tells me, the gay community all says he's gay, and if anyone would know, it's them. He's a fashionista. His name in the gay community is Jennifer. "Stop!" I shout, laughing. "This is ridiculous." Then why are you writing it down, they ask. I'm writing it down, I tell them, as gossip.

On other topics...
Mel apparently redistributed some lands to peasants, who Suyapa says are now being killed by the former landowners, and there's nothing anyone can do. Elena piped up: "Él es un ignorante, él no sabe [at this point she paused momentarily and Suyapa joined in, in chorus] nada" ("He's an ignoramos, he don't know [pause] nothing.")

On a politician named Michelete, who recently publicly stated the something along the lines of: "Yo tengo mi lista de comunistas y sé lo que voy a hacer con ellos...por eso tenemos nuestras fuerzas armadas gloriosas" "I have a list of communists in the country and I know what I´m going to do with them...this is what we have our glorious armed forced for."

Suyapa: "En este país hemos llegado a un nivel de absurdo- no lo pueden internalizar- ni se dan cuenta de que lo que estan viviendo es violencia." "In this counry we've arrived at a level of absurdity-the people can't internalize it-they don't even realize that what they're living is violence." This statement probably requires some explanation, since it's in the context of a never-ending discussion of violence, in which everyone in the country is quite aware of the violence outside. But at the same time, it's become so normalized and so much of the violence is, as Bourdieu put it, misrecognized. That's what Suyapa's so eloquently referring to. Her turns of phrase were so perfect. It really was clear that she is a poet.

Somehow Elena got talking about how ridiculous Honduras´s national anthem was: "Tu bandera, tu bandera es un lampo de cielo por un bloque de nieve cruzado." (your flag, your flag is a light from the sky over a block of snow...or something like that)
Elena: Nieve! What nieve? There's no nieve in Honduras!
Suyapa looks at me with a mischievous smile, running her finger horizontally across her nose and sniffing exaggeratedly. "Sí hay nieve, pero de esto!" "Sure we´ve got snow, but this kind!"

A friend of Suyapa's who works in the area of reproductive health says that it's becoming increasingly common for mothers to rent out their infant children for oral sex. Is Honduras going to become even more like South Africa? I have a BBC radio report that I haven't listened to about the growth of private security companies and violence there. But the similarities scare me, for both countries´sake.

Suyapa asks what I'm doing here, and I tell her that right now I'm looking at the links between war and health. What war, she asks? I tell her, the one you've been talking about. The daily war for survival amidst the unbelievable generalized killing taking place here. She answers, laughing, "Aquí no tenemos guerra. Ya sabemos quien ganó." "Here we don't have a war. We already know who won."

They got to talking about sects. Elena was particularly angry at one group of evangelical healers. "We've lost many of our HIV-positive compañeros," she says, "because those pastors came and touched them on the shoulder and said they were cured. And they stopped taking their medications and died." One such group, run by Mario Tomás Barahona, apparently has a billboard up advising, "No se divorcien. Nosotros trabajamos por usted" ("Don't get divorced. We're working for you.").
Suyapa said, "I admire what he did, what's his name, the president of Venezuela?"
[Elena] "Hugo Chavez"
[Suyapa] "...because he kicked the gringo missionaries out and said God didn´t have imperialist representatives, not even Jesus.

On Chavez, we discuss why the South American leftward surge will never hit Honduras. Suyapa says that Hondurans have lost themselves, their will to fight, their self-esteem. Elena and Suyapa mock Mel's response to Chavez's call for a new morality when he came to Honduras [he's come twice, among other things to make Petrocaribe deals]. Apparently Mel said something like, "indeed, Honduras has ample fertile ground in which to sow morality." "As if morality were a crop that you could just plant!" Elena exclaims. "I want to tell you," she continues, "about the height of ridiculousness" of the cult of Chavez in Honduras. Although none of the politicians here share his agenda, they have all apparently been adopting his forms of speech and mannerisms, which resonate with the pueblo. Mel himself has started doing a Chavez-esque one-arm salute, and the mayor of Tegucigalpa started a t.v. show called "Alo Capitalinos." Elena and Suyapa cracked up laughing. "Couldn't they have held a contest or something? There must have been another name out there!" It's an obvious rip-off of Chavez's famous "Alo Presidente" t.v. show, in which he strengthens his populist credentials in a talk-show format.

Suyapa on Honduran identity: "Other countries have something in common. For us what we have in common is that we have nothing in common."

On hearing my analysis of the U.S. presidential race, they nod. We all agree that Nobody would be the best president, and Suyapa says her boyfriend's an anarchist too. "Whenever the left gets together to create a new system, as socialists or communists or in NGOs or whatever" she notes, "they just recreate a hierarchical capitalist structure." Elena adds that the left uses the language of capitalism, and tells an anecdote of an NGO friend of hers with whom she got into an argument when her friend started talking about the organization's "plan para marketing" [in English].

Suyapa gives me my third big coup of an interview contact: her good friend who was the U.N. rep for some international conference in Bolivia on water privatization, and who is up in arms about the recent and ongoing sale of primary drinking water sources in Honduras to North American (in this usage, U.S. or Canada) corporations. I will call her today. Suyapa says, "This means that they [U.S. companies] are not going to worry at all about global warming. What they plan to do is kill off all of us and keep the water for themselves." The only thing that can solve this is, she continues, is if the "bloque sur" (the Southern Bloc) se arme, with Lula taking charge. "Arm themselves" does not necessarily mean in the literal sense here, and I don't think that's what she meant (at least not principally); rather, they should unify politically to prevent water privatization and associated threats to the health and lives of people from the South from worsening.

Our final conversation was about computers and deskilling. Suyapa said: "El mundo está dentro de un carcel digital, digamos. Es que ni nos damos cuenta y nos estamos descuidando mucho." "The world is inside a digital prison, one could say. It's that we don't even realize it and we're letting it happen." and then by 8pm I couldn't keep my eyes open. I woke up at 4:30 and started typing (it's 8am now), exacerbating my seemingly endless Cairo jetlag.

p.d. I made a list of people to interview today. It´s longer than I imagine I can accomplish, but I´m going to start calling as soon as I post this darn thing. Today and yesterday I ate mangoes that fell from the neighbor´s tree into the yard. They´re unspeakably delicious and abundant, as are the limones on the neighbor´s other overhanging tree. I walked to the Mall Miraflores today in daisy dukes, just because I could (take that, Cairo!). But actually it didn´t feel quite as liberating as I thought it would. So I bought a pair of paint-on sparkly black jeans to fit in better. The salesgirls said I should get the smaller size, but I seriously couldn´t breathe in them, let alone walk or sit down. Love this country. Love it.