Voices of the Poor Lost in Honduras' Power Struggle

By Amanda Lind 7-10-2009

090710-honduras-coupTwo weeks ago Sunday I awoke to my cell phone ringing at 6:45 a.m. In my sleepy delirium I answered it to hear the agitated voice of Isidra, a friend and “hermana” from our church in Flor del Campo, a marginalized neighborhood near the airport of Tegucigalpa. “They’ve taken the president!” she told me, and in my confusion I asked who “they” were and where they took him. “The military took him at gunpoint, but nobody knows where he is now ... they put him on a plane,” was the reply.

Shortly after the wake-up call, the power went out for the rest of the morning, leaving us all in the dark with no television or radio news to clarify what exactly had happened. Lack of any real information caused rumors to fly and fears to grow; at church later that morning Don Juan, a community later who clearly remembers the dark times of the '80s, said it was an old trick of those in powers to use blackouts and fear to control the people.

In the beginning it seemed like only a few people felt strongly in support of either the new government led by Micheletti or ousted President Zelaya; most people just seemed scared and wanted a quick and peaceful resolution. I discovered that initial perception was naïve, however, as day by day the marches on both sides increase in number. Campesinos came in on buses to support their ousted president, staying in local schools closed indefinitely due to the political upheaval. Micheletti supporters take to the streets daily in coordinating blue and white shirts and hats, waving signs for peace and democracy. We’ve heard rumors that many business owners threaten to fire employees if they don’t attend these rallies, but there is also clear support for the new government from many living in the capital city.

After a plane carrying Zelaya swooped twice, dramatically low, over our neighborhood last Sunday and our neighbors cheered vigorously from the rooftops with fists raised, I thought it was safe to assume most people in our poor neighborhood were sympathetic to their ousted president. As my co-worker at the library said, “He’s not perfect. But he’s our president. If they can take our president in the middle of the night, what could they do to us, who are nothing to them?”

Tuesday, however, I spent the morning making cards with three women who run their own small greeting card business close to the library where I work and listening to the local Christian radio station, and I was surprised to hear my friends vigorously defending the new government. “Zelaya was heading in the way of Chavez and those other socialists. We are a democracy! We don’t want a dictator here,” said Sandra.

Later that day I was back at the library, listening as my co-worker Carolina spoke with everyone who would listen about how we needed to get our president back. Carolina was sporting a red and black shirt: the unofficial colors of Zelaya supporters. Andrew has joked that it feels a little like the “sharks and the jets” here lately, as both sides can now be identified by the color of shirt they’re wearing in the streets.

Several people from home have written us wanting to know who the “good guys” are in this mess. I think it's human nature to want to know who the good guys and bad guys are in situations such as these so we can take the necessary steps to support the good guys and condemn the bad guys. In this case it's really not that simple. Zelaya is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a good guy. He made a lot of empty promises in order to gain the support of the poor. Micheletti is no better. I think this is a case of wealthy people and career politicians doing their best to retain power and wealth. The ones who will lose in this political clash, as always, already are and will continue to be the poor.

As the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere, this situation is the last thing Honduras needed. I keep thinking about people we've met out in the campo -- people who were already struggling to get by day to day. The poor people that make up the majority of Honduras' population are the ones that will suffer from economic sanctions that will come if Micheletti and the congress refuse to negotiate and cooperate with the international community. The poor majority are fed promises and faulty information from all sides; they are the least educated with the least access to good information, and the most likely to suffer from this mess.

In Henry Nouwen’s book The Road to Peace, he asserts that fear is the opposite of love. I see the wisdom and truth to that living in a country divided by fear: fear of dictatorship, fear of human rights abuses, fear of military rule and a return to days nobody wants to relive.

portrait-amanda-lindAmanda Lind lives and works in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, along with her husband, Andrew Clouse. She has been in Honduras working through the Mennonite Central Committee for two years. Amanda currently works as a librarian and English teacher at the Biblioteca Flor del Saber, a community library which is desperately in need of funds.

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