still trading mirrors for gold

Wednesday June 11th-Thursday June 13th

So, at the congreso, diputada Silvia Ayala was getting frustrated at the pace of debate. They were supposed to have started at 9 in the morning and didn't have quorum until 2, and she was there. In response to his reprimand to the congress that they hurry up and not take any breaks, she said to the congress president, "lo que abunda no daña," (something like, "an embarrassment of riches alone doesn't hurt you"). Some of us, she said, have been here since nine in the morning waiting to discuss this important law, and the last thing we want to do now is to not take a short break, or to rush the law. "Yes, with all respect, diputada, I understand…" said the president, "but…" and she responded, "Señor presidente, con todo el respeto y el cariño…" This phrase caused snickering among my journalist compañeros, who laughed at her overly sweet language. She looked back and rolled her eyes and laughed with them, and a reportera next to me called her to come back, where she gave a brief interview on her frustrations with the process and the proposed law. "We're not having the debate we need to be having," she told the reporter

There was a lot of discussion about the qualifications of the person who would be in charge of police oversight. The biggest point of difference, of course, was whether s/he should come from inside or outside the police, and who would appoint him/her (ministerio de seguridad vs. ministerio público). Dip. Zelaya: we need a coherent hierarchal pyramid; we need someone who understands the police. Another big topic was the question of birth. One diputado made a whole long speech about how the person must by Honduran by birth. Another agreed, saying that in Mexico that's how they do it, adding that both parents should be Honduran by birth. They were reminded by the secretary of the congress, a diputada de Copán, that in the constitution you don't have to be born in the country to be considered Honduran, you only have to have one Honduran parent. Another says, I feel like we're speaking of two classes [by birth] of Hondurans. Our constitution says we're all the same before the law.

[On blood, nationality, and morality: Zelaya's father died in prison, crimen de la Talancera in the 70s (Elena thinks). He also was named Jose Manuel Zelaya, and killed a bunch of campesinos, a university student and one or two foreign priests who were all involved in liberation theology in Valle de Lepaguare, Dept. de Olancho, Haciendo los Horcones. And for his part, Maduro was born in Panama, with no Honduran parents. "Es panameño," says Elena.]

Silvia Ayala says s/he should be a civilian with professional legal, social science or criminology training, and not have been found guilty of human rights abuse crimes or have profited from them. Dip. Gabo Alfredo Jalil Mejía: Why can't we allow a civilian to be director? Because this law is based in a police career, on merit, on hierarchy, on challenges, on competitions, so the hierarchical system is in place. And if we come and unilaterally name someone from outside, we're falling into a model of arbitrariness.

There was also a debate which I sadly did not follow as closely as I wanted to, about private security companies and their relation with prisons. I hope to interview María Luisa Borjas about it, if I can catch her again. Silvia Ayala was again very clear on the necessary separation there. Another diputado compared it to what's going on with privatization of education. Just like with private schools, he said, they are not run by the government but the government still have oversight. Therefore, he claimed, having private security in the prisons should not be a problem.

At one point a middle-aged diputada with fire-engine short red hair came back and asked the journalists, "which one of you died?" "El peloncito," the wisecracking reporter next to me, Liliana Cárcamo, replied sadly. "They're having the wake tonight down the road." They agreed to try to go afterward, and the diputada showed real concern.

Liliana asked me about what I was doing there, as she opened a new jar of creamy peanut butter and started eating it with a pen. I told her, and she asked me what I thought of Hondurans? I gave the only proper answer in that situation, which also happens to be the truth. I like Hondurans. I think they're in a pretty awful structural position, but that doesn't reflect on them personally. And anyway, there's too much variation to speak as if they were one category. "Over there they say we're araganes," [lazy] she said. "But we work harder than anybody…I get up at 4:30 in the morning and keep working until the evening." I told her I fully agreed, and mentioned my book's title, which she enthusiastically approved.

Then Edgardo Serrano interviewed me. I got up at 6 to listen (it's on the previous post) to Radio Nacional de Honduras. The piece that directly preceded my interview involved the minister of security talking at length about how gangs start in the family, which is the place where violence and irresponsibility are taught, and that the family is where anti-gang efforts should be concentrated. They should call it the War on Families.

After writing all morning, I headed off to Plaza where I was planning to load yesterday's post at the café with the cute young employees and the sign on the wall offering to fill out U.S. visa applications for 80 lempiras (a little over USD$4). Walking down the street, one of the ads caught my eye. USF is outsourcing just like all the fly-by-night American Universities in the Gulf. This actually linked up with a discussion I had later with Alba about the privatization of education in relation to the privatization of water.

I was stopped on the street by a girl in a car shouting "Adriana." I saw Teto driving. "Abril?" I asked, hardly believing that she could look so different. "Sí," she said shyly. I kissed her through the window and got in the car. Abril's brother, who was even less recognizeable to me, and Teto's big fat square-faced baby with an Arab name were in the back seat. We drove back to the house, where I calculated I had a half hour or so before I really had to leave again.

Abril seemed to have been prepped. She knew she was special to me, even though I'm pretty sure she didn't really remember me. But she sat next to me and asked me questions about Egypt, gasping at talk of the pyramids, and at my description of the clothes people wear even in the desert heat. She asked, "are there lots of trees in Egypt?" I showed her the dedication in the book. She really couldn't have been sweeter. After I explained the meaning of "to," her eyes lit up, she gasped and gave me a huge hug. She then eagerly looked through the book. "But-" she said, "it's all in English!" I told her I hoped it would be in Spanish soon too. She kept flipping the pages, exclaiming when she found words she knew- "That means trabajo! That means y! That means maquiladoras!" "That is maquiladoras," I say, laughing. The reference section excites her, with its various things in Spanish. She asks about the Banana Republic, and I have to explain to her the original meaning of the phrase. She's so smart and tomboyish that I immediately go back on my plan to give her the Bedouin bead jewelry that I brought and give her a King Tut pen instead, explaining to her the concept of mummies. I had to leave for my interview, but I was promised I'd see them again.

At Plaza, I got into a colectivo with a bumper sticker on the back windshield that read

Por La Justicia
Yo apoyo la huelga de hambre

[In the name of justice
I support the hunger strike]

The driver started off listening to some sort of 1970s classic [North] American station, then switched for a while to Radio fé, an evangelical station, then finally settled on Reggaetón. He left me near Café Paradiso, the bohemian joint where I was to meet Alba, 15 minutes early, so I went briefly to an internet café with a whole lot of privacy.

Some internet cafes ban porn, others encourage it. But it goes further than that, or at least it did five years ago. On my previous visit my friend Tomás told me with some excitement about a "café internet sex" (word order in Spanish) in the San Pedro Sula central park, with long curtains offering complete visual privacy. It had significantly streamlined his encounters with guys he met in the park. I visited the place later, and it seemed like it would take some skilled mauevering in the smallish space, but was clearly possible.

Just a minute late, I went to see Alba, where she talked for an hour straight with the kind of brilliant analysis that I wish I could come up with myself but which works so much better coming out of the mouth of one of my informants. So I can say see? My agenda isn't just some sort of top-down foreign BS! Not that I'm particularly worried about that; I know it's not. That's the fun of doing solidarity anthropology. It's a lot harder for people to accuse you of being a imperialist tool. Although I should take that back- that's what happened to Kernaghan after the Kathie Lee Gifford hullabaloo. Still, though I admire him, my approach is rather different.

Anyway, she spoke of the links between the privatization of water and the privatization of education: underfunded public schools and universities function only to produce uncritical servants of the capitalist machinery who will buy into the ideology that everything should be a commodity and not protest the privatization of their water. She told me about the buy-ups that are going on all over the country; she knows Honduran lawyers who have been contracted to arranged the sales of freshwater springs to foreign corporations, the same ones that now profit from destroying poor countries and taking their oil [she promises to get me a list].

Rather than try to get it all down here in narrative form, which is going to take me days of transcription, I'll copy down the several pages of notes I took:

  • They're selling it in a secret/hidden way, they're buying the land where the water comes out [in Spanish, donde nace el agua, where the water is born]. The lawyers buy it in the name of the corporations.
  • 52% of the freshwater in the world is in Latin America
  • The La Tigra National Park provides 60% of the capital's water. Almost all the area surrounding La Tigra has been bought up by private parties- developers, investors, etc. The new developments are contaminating the surrounding water.
  • mines are a big issue—the Rosario mine (still!?), Canadian and U.S. mining companies are messing up the water supply too.
  • The UN considers 30 liters/day/person a human right
  • Water was considered a right, a public good, in the Honduran constitution but in the 80s there were constitutional changes that affected that.
  • Before, legally, no foreigner could have a house by the water (abutting a river or ocean), article 107 of the constitution
  • Alba: My journalist friends didn't believe me—they said I was such a crazy anti-capitalist that I'd made it up but then one of them saw a movie by Michael Moore where he covered the privatization of water and then she believed me.
  • Global capitalism says that we the poor are permitted to live only a certain number of years to serve as producers and that's it.
  • Look what's happening with the university. Capital needs people with a secondary-school education.
  • Everything is reduced to a product. Water is reduced to a product. And this still hasn't been pounded into the heads of Hondurans and when they convince us of this (through a bifurcated capitalist educational system), there will no longer be resistance.
  • What can we do? We are not stupid like they think. Look at Puerto Rico. All these years of colonization and they still resist—they still speak Spanish.
  • Evo Morales is fighting against privatization; that's what brought the previous government down.
  • Even socialists have private property; If I buy a house, it's my house. But it's the property of people, not corporations
  • [recording 9:30] re:dams in Honduras and the unkept promises to displaced populations: "They're still trading mirrors for gold."
  • [recording 12:30]When I was young and they told us that a certain percent of the earth was water and a certain percent was land, I said "that can't be! There's water under the ground and land under the water. It's not separate."
  • [recording 14:10]We waste water terribly here, for example bathing with the water running [instead of army shower or the cold bucket showers I've been taking myself- delicious!]
  • [recording 14:50]What they have in the United States is not development, if you ask me. And if what they have isn't development, how can we be underdeveloped? We've used our resources for their development.
  • Capital thinks that if you think differently, you're a terrorist, or an ecological radical.
  • [recording 16:30]They say the people aren't experts, that you have to be from outside to be an expert.
  • [recording 17:40]The five people who died in Toncontín, don't get me wrong, I'm glad that we're getting Palmerola back from the foreign aggressors, but in San Pedro Sula when 100 kids died in prison, no one said we should build a new prison.
  • [recording 19:42]The river where I bathed as a child is dried up now because people from outside came and built houses and didn't respect the river like we did. What they really want to do is close off the whole area, take over the riverbed and build houses.
  • [recording 23:20]There is no substitute for water
  • [recording ~27:00]A movie by [Tirman Ever?] about how electric companies in the U.S. make poor people pay for the costs of large companies. Like here, a maquiladora comes to town, and out of nowhere they have electricity and good roads to the port, and meanwhile the poor people around have none of that.
  • They want poor people in prisons as producers.
  • [recording 31:20]She gives a simple economics lesson, the function of the businessman is…
  • [recording 33:00]On why kids join gangs, and why the state does so little.
  • [recording 34:30]Every day the owners of the world become fewer, and consumerism is a parasite. [this topic segues to a discussion of Bush and the war on drugs, recording 37:00]
  • On consumerism as all powerful: her friends gave her shit for using cloth diapers. Oh, that sounds sort of silly, huh. Anyway it's what I have in my notebook.
  • I turned off the recorder but then we started talking again and I wrote as fast as my fingers would carry me.

    Hay gente en el campo de desarrollo que son colonizadores piensan que nosotros somos tontos. No les gusta nuestro español, dicen que no hablamos bien. Pero eso es una falta de respeto y ¿cómo van a venir a desarollarnos si no nos respetan? Primero hay que respetar la identidad. Esos bancos no tienen equipos interdisciplinarios. La parte de las ciencias sociales no está incluido. No es sostenible porque no se basa en la identidad de la gente.

    La Laguna de Bacanao en la mosquitia se está contaminado. Dicen que los Hondureños no tenemos prácticas ecológicas. No es cierto—hemos sido invadidos por la sociedad capitalista que dice que entre más acumulas, mejor, y si no, no estás desarollando. Nosotros los hondureños tenemos prácticas ecológicas, por eso la tierra estuvo sana cuando llegaron a invadirnos.

    As we wrapped up, she asked her young (12ish) daughter who was sitting at the next table with a well-groomed, polite young man (a friend of Alba's), "Did you go say hi to the poet?"

    I mentioned how impressed I was at the quantity & quality of poets in this country. She laughed and responded, "De poetas y locos todos tenemos un poco." [we all have a little bit of poets and of madmen in us] When she saw me whip out the notebook again to write it down, she and her friend laughed. "Here's another one," she said. "Nunca se sabe" [You never know]. There was a
    Honduran football trainer who said that all the time in one of the world cups, '82 I think, and it struck us Hondurans as funny and now everyone here says it. Then she invited me to a poetry event with her and a number of other women poets in the Centro Cultural Sampedrano next week. See what I mean? I don't think I ever realized quite how awesome this country was, in all the years I've done research here. I feel ashamed of that fact.

    Alba tells me she's doing her second masters degree, in the University of Havana, and is writing a thesis on Honduran identity and the media. "Yo soy muy revolucionaria, Adriana," she says.

    She went inside to say goodbye to someone and I waited with her daughter and her young friend. I asked him what he did—a really bad question to ask a young Honduran man, and I immediately felt sorry for it. Shamefacedly, he replied, "I don't have work right now, it's hard to find…" Trying to show him I understood, I said that things were impossible here, and I knew it was so hard to find a job, especially for a young man. He lit up. He was so happy that I said that, and got chatty. "It's so nice that you understand. It's so hard for a man to find a job here—Pero hay una cosa, que es que aunque la mujer encuentre trabajo, es menos remunerada—But there's another thing, which is that even though it's easier for a woman to find work, she's paid less [than a man]." I was glad that we had the conversation, even if I started it off stupidly. There's so much shame and wounded masculinity in this country. It breaks my heart.

    Outside, a super-creative tactic by the city to get people to park properly: public humiliation:

    It reads, "I behaved badly and they punished me. I promise not to park here again." A man walking by on the sidewalk, seeing them in a futile attempt to scrape it off, said "Clorox! Clorox will get it right off." And kept walking. Alba's daughter was mortified, and hid in the back behind the driver's seat.

    Alba and her daughter and friend dropped me off near the senate building so I could see how the police law was coming and try to run into my new journalist friends again. I'll write about that in the next post.