Disturbing developments in the news

In the past couple weeks there has been more troubling news (and/or reporting) on Honduras than I have time to elaborate on. Just a few lowlights here:

  1. A good brief overview & commentary (below, in Spanish) by TN5 of the horrible new official secrets law, which, translated somewhat inaccurately into US terms, reverts a Zelaya law that allowed for FOIA-like info requests; criminalizes whistle-blowing and journalists who publish information from whistleblowers; and allows a broad range of government officials excessive powers of classification. Long story short: it legalizes the heightened criminalization of the now-entirely-unfree Honduran press. In other press news a community radio bill was just passed and given a lot of coverage as if its passage somehow effectively counteracted the dangers of carrying out journalism in this country, and the press freedom organization C-Libre is threatened with having its legal status revoked (along with hundreds of other NGOs listed in La Gaceta last Friday).

  2. A NYT article that is basically PR for an evangelical NGO that epitomizes the White Man's Burden in its rhetoric and actions; a group that allied with the police force at the height of the post-coup repression; a group that has engaged for years in an all-out attack on teachers' unions employing a horribly distorted neoliberal discourse of corruption in the process. The article employs a normative arc to tug on heartstrings: pretty girl (see her photo!) killed in a brutal attack, no one willing to talk, so clever sleuth posing as missionary paid by NGO finds a witness. Tada, murder mystery solved!

    Only, it doesn't really work like that. Here's the most egregious quote from the article:

    “We often blame the police,” said Kurt Ver Beek, an American who is a founder of the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (the Association for a More Just Society, or A.J.S.), a nonprofit organization that runs the project in Nueva Suyapa. “But what’s underreported in all this is that these cases also require witnesses to be brave. Fear on the part of witnesses is just as big of a problem as corruption in the system. And both create a vicious circle.”

    So Kurt Ver Beek, who started out as an academic doing pro-management maquiladora studies (among other things--that link is from my book), has for years now been at the helm of AJS, which has done a few good things (like currently opposing the new secrecy law, kind of a no-brainer) and many more very harmful things for Honduran democracy and sovereignty. This quote is a case in point. There are DAMN good reasons why witnesses would not want to come forward. He might have more accurately stated "these cases require witnesses to be suicidal." To place equal blame on witnesses and police is a huge obfuscation of the structures of power that, as such, perpetuates them. Also, it's amazing to me that anyone would take this "case by case" approach seriously. Yes, justice is incredibly important for each individual person. And yeah, it'd be great to effect it. But where are the resources for that? Why is there no focus on the roots of the violence? Oh yeah, because those roots are profitable...in fact, they are profit.

    There's a much longer article that needs to be written here, and some day soon I will write it. But what Hondurans need to begin to confront the mislabeled "epidemic" of violence is sovereignty and a shot at participatory democracy, not ongoing wrongheaded intervention by foreign NGOs allied with USAID and the embassy using symbolically violent rhetoric that continues to blame the poor for their own predicament. It's disturbing to see the NYT once again serving as State's PR man.

  3. A new push to criminalize all indigenous Miskitu people for the drug trafficking that has overtaken their territory, in line with Ambassador Kubiske's ongoing efforts to blame the victims of the May 12, 2012 DEA massacre in Ahuas for their own deaths. The reality of the Moskitia is much more complex. It is a classic grey zone, in which indigenous communities have suffered decades of violent land expropriation; foreign occupation by corporations and countries (from Honduras to SINOHYDRO and everything in between); US-funded and directed militarization; exploitative labor practices (especially in the fishing industry); and violence at the hands of drug traffickers. In the midst of such an environment it is almost impossible to not become complicit—in the same way Ver Beek can imply that murder witnesses in poor communities are complicit for not being "brave" enough to testify. One of my friends, responding to a horrible NYT article that also implied collective guilt just after the Ahuas massacre, wrote the following (one of the best examples of Levi's grey zone that I've seen):

    The truth is I become angrier every time I hear this kind of commentary. Have the writers of the New York Times spent time in the Moskitia with the people from here at any point, even once? Do they have evidence that we're all involved in drug trafficking? I believe that before publishing something they should do a better job of investigating what goes out to the public. What do they gain by denigrating us even more? Is it not enough for them that we are already marginalized from every perspective? God only knows, the guilty are few but the innocents, we are many more. But what can we do when every day the monster has us more and more in a corner? Live with our heads down and bear what is happening around us, trying to stay out of everything in order to live even one more day. It is true that many are involved but in what sense? In that it ranges from professionals to the poorest campesino, children and women, but that is not the majority of the population. Or, can I say that I'm a drug trafficker just because I see what's going on and I remain silent, since I know the danger it represents for my family and my own physical integrity to denounce it? Or that we are drug traffickers because when they bomb the boats loaded with product on their way to their chosen destinations, the waves bring the drugs to shore and a few people find them and sell them. No, sirs, before continuing to disparage us I believe that you should at least honor your journalistic duty, like any good professional who loves and represents their trade; not all journalists or newspapers say such nonsense, incoherent slander and stupid things.

    Again, I need to write a much longer article on this, and again, insha'alla, it's coming. But further criminalization of an indigenous community that is already so marginalized, and the resulting (further) military buildup that said criminalization is geared toward, will help no one but the multinational corporations looking to cash in on the Moskitia's vast natural resources. And they really don't need any more help.