A week before coming to Honduras I was at a nice outdoor barbecue party with a lot of government employees and mosquitoes that did not carry the dengue virus. A Honduran friend, Dalia, happened to be there as well. At one point, standing with a small group of other party-goers, our conversation turned to Facebook. My general complaint, in addition to being monitored for nefarious purposes by the government and who-knows-what-else, is addiction. I was listing my various unsuccessful strategies for not wasting time on the site, when Dalia mentioned that she and her whole family had shut their accounts down for good. I asked why, and she told me that criminal groups had been using social networks to find targets who had family in the States, and (as such) a reliable source of money for kidnapping and extortion schemes. She said family members in Honduras had started receiving threatening text messages, and the family took the joint decision that everyone would get off Facebook. "It was hard for me at first," she said ("me dolió"), "but ni modo, I had to do it." I asked if it worked, and she said her relatives hadn't gotten any new text message threats since everyone got off Facebook.
That was the day I decided to close my FB account.
I haven't felt things to be particularly different here, though people talk about a change. I don't take the violence at all lightly, but as long as I've been coming to Honduras, it's always been "worse than it's ever been," and I am wary of capitulating to that crippling panic that happens when They Win. Things that seem different: public spaces are all but shut down by 6pm. In the center of the city, everything except for the major fast food restaurants close at 5. (Malls are open later) People clear out too, in a hurry, leaving the streets empty except for the people who live on them and a few stragglers.
Another thing I noticed while looking for a home to rent...in the section of town where I went to house hunt, vague signs (se alquila apartamento amueblado) are accompanied by phone numbers of people who won't tell you the location, size or price of what they are renting, but tell you to meet on a certain street corner to walk you to the apartment. I did this twice, and it was a Hollywood encounter between spies. It went like this the first time (and similarly the second): Two different guys were staked out to give the owner the ok to meet us, and when we passed the visual test, the owner met us and his son/bodyguard followed at some distance behind, later getting closer and finally walking right behind us. Until the owner faux-casually mentioned "oh, that's my son" I naively assumed he was another potential renter, but he was actually just there to make sure I wasn't going to assault anyone (I didn't).
Death porn hasn't changed in general, but it does seem to be targeting the private class in different ways than before. The other night a TV presenter screwed up and read the same intro twice, once by mistake before a commercial break, and afterward before the actual report. On second thought, it may have just been a poor production choice to use the exact same script as a teaser, but in any case, I heard it twice. It started out with the presenter at his desk, talking about a voluntary curfew that some neighborhoods were imposing affecting people and vehicles, since at any moment criminals might dump tortured bodies on their street. In both instances of the reading (which was live each time) the part about bodies that had been subjected to torture was accompanied by video of a body, wrapped tightly in white plastic, lying diagonally on the street of a neighborhood of people with relative means. The report itself featured people of relative means talking about how this sort of thing didn't use to happen in their neighborhoods.
The television, which I have had much occasion to watch while dealing with a horrible head cold, seems to be programmed with nothing but Jerry Bruckheimer programs. In the States they teach a fiction about the reliability of forensic technologies and (just as damaging) about the capacities of local U.S. police forces facing drastic budget cuts under neoliberal restructuring to serve the interests of the people/democracy. And that's assuming that police forces were there to protect the people in the first place, which of course they're not. But here, the message is more complicated still. It reinforces the dogma of the golpista media that "criminals" are intrinsically, constitutionally different from police, military, and oligarchs like themselves. It also reinforces the narrative of unimaginable superiority of the United States, Honduras's militarily occupying force, in terms of technology, justice, and technologies of justice.
Yesterday afternoon while waiting for a friend at the peatonal near the central park, a vendor with a wheelbarrow full of bananas and plantains begged me to take me with him the the United States. "There is nothing for us to do here," he told me. "They only let us sell for one hour a day, and you can't sell anything in that time. Just take me with you, then I'll go. I have family in Houston. It's just too dangerous here."
I bought ten lempiras worth of ripe bananas from him (he told me they were local, from Tegucigalpa) and apologized.
Street vendors always have the same products at any given time. I'm not talking about bananas and mangoes, but about whatever random shipment of plastic goods that appeared that month. Walking away from the banana vendor, I saw dozens of people selling the same two things: long plastic bottles of bubbles, and tennis-racket-shaped devices emblazoned with the AA logo which set off multiple loud, crackling sparks when they run a special wand against them (wand included).
At the university things look different. A massive cement front gate has been built where previously there was a welcoming entrance with lots of vendors. The new system looks to be very much like my old job site at AUC, where the campus was controlled by semi-retired members of Mubarak's military. ID was required for entry, defeating the "universal" in university. In this case, like in Cairo, it will be possible to obtain visitor IDs, but the hassle will likely keep many out. "Security" is of course the reason given, just as it was there. But a gated entry does not make me feel more secure. A large number of tall trees and bushes have been chopped down around campus for "security" as well. The concrete is much more predominant than it was. Lots of new construction, but the workers were in the middle of a televised protest when I arrived. It was creative- they had strung up clotheslines and hung old jeans on them. A proclamation that a man sitting next to me in the colectivo announced the university syndicate's solidarity with Hospital Escuela employees in opposing measures being imposed on them, which included raising the retirement age to something much higher than the average Honduran lifespan.
Yesterday a new acquaintance was asking if I planned to use a car. If I was going to drive a car, she said, I would need to use a chain and padlock to lock my hood, because otherwise they'd steal the batteries. But if I was going to use taxis, she said, I should think twice. She told me about a kidnapping she had endured while pregnant with the small child running around our feet, in which she took a colectivo as a directo, but the driver stopped to let three attackers in. The driver drove off who knows where, while her attackers beat her, shoved her head down, told her how they would kill her and rape her, took all her stuff, and finally dumped her somewhere on the side of the road. She said she lay there screaming for half an hour, and someone in a Mercedes Benz showed up to help her but she was too scared to be helped. He finally convinced her by giving her his wallet and cell phone, and she let him take her home to safety. The moral of the whole story was, it's worth it to pay a more expensive private taxi.
Last night the private taxi I rode home in was (according to the friend who rode with me) assaulted as it began to drive away. I had thought the driver, a nice young guy, was just having a conversation with the other young guy who I assumed to be security at the entrance of the colonia. I hadn't questioned the transfer of money from the driver to the other guy, at whom I had smiled on my way past. But as I mulled it over in my head, influenced by my Honduran friend's arguments (the driver didn't know the area and gave no one notice that he was coming- they couldn't have been friends; Why would he give him money? That was obviously not the security guy, what was he doing hiding in the shadows?) it seemed like the only possible conclusion. Assaults are so expected and violence so feared here that they're hard for me to detect. I guess I expected something more dramatic. But really, all someone has to do is to say "give me the money." No gun or anything.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Party, which (from what I can tell) now only consists of coup supporters and Yani Rosenthal—everyone else has defected to LIBRE—is running ads to try to convince people that at one point they weren't as odious as they are now. The campaign is called "Fuimos Los Liberales" which translates to "It was us, the Liberals" (but also "We were the Liberals") and is remarkably similar to the Cuarta Urna campaign of Mel Zelaya, prior to the coup. Never mentioning Zelaya, of course. Enjoy!