learning the cost of democracy

A week ago Monday, the United States ordered a pullout of its 158 Peace Corps volunteers from Honduras. Surging violence there may have been the cause for this move.

A week ago Monday, the United States ordered a pullout of its 158 Peace Corps volunteers from Honduras. Surging violence there may have been the cause for this move. As an Associated Press article, filed from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, noted: “It is the first time Peace Corps missions have been withdrawn from Central America since civil wars swept the region in the 1970s and 1980s.”

A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report, the Global Study on Homicide 2011, released late last year, reported that Honduras had the unenviable distinction of holding top spot, worldwide, in homicide rates. It had 82.1 murders per 100,000 citizens in 2010. The number-two spot went to the neighbouring Central American republic of El Salvador, at 66 killings per 100,000. This violent plague also affects Guatemala, bordering Honduras to the north, at a rate of 44.1 violent deaths per 100,000. By comparison the same report set Canada’s rate at 1.8 or the much-more reported Mexican situation at only 18.1.

At first glance, drug-related gang violence could be seen at the core of this problem. Some attribute this to the opening of new drug supply routes into the United States and Canada from this so-called northern triangle of Central American republics. This was caused by increased pressure on the drug cartels’ previous links through Mexico or Colombia.

Fernando Giron Soto, a security analyst at the Myrna Mack Foundation in Guatemala City, said in a U.S. National Public Radio interview by Jason Beaubien last May, the drug-trafficking money “corrupts government officials and it flows directly or indirectly into the coffers of the business elite.”

Giron is not alone among analysts in warning that “the volatile mix of a weak state, powerful drug traffickers, lots of weapons and intractable poverty” could cause the collapse of vulnerable poor nations like Guatemala or Honduras.

However this isn’t the whole story for sure.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. Congressman Howard Berman, of California, expressed in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in late November, his concern that violence could also be linked to human rights abuses.

“(S)ome of the murders in Honduras appeared to be politically motivated because high-profile victims included people related to or investigating abuses by security forces, or to the June 28, 2009 ouster of President Manuel Zelaya” in an elite-backed military coup d’etat.

Dilcia Diaz Cuellar, a Honduran educator visiting Whitehorse next week, would likely agree.

Ms. Diaz Cuellar will be coming to the Yukon as the Social Justice Committee’s 2012 Global Solidarity Speaker in co-sponsorship with the Yukon Teachers’ Association. A high school math and science teacher from northern Honduras, she has been a member of the Honduran High School Teachers College (COPEMH) national executive and is currently the co-ordinator of the organization’s Non-Sexist and Inclusive Pedagogy Teachers’ training program.

Since the 2009 military coup in Honduras, the teachers’ college has, along with the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a broad coalition of civil society organizations, been seeking to restore democracy to the country. Teachers definitely have a stake in this struggle.

The de facto government’s “shock therapy” tactics include a call to privatize public education in line with policies of international financial institutions. These efforts seek to dismantle the reforms of the unseated government of Manuel Zelaya. Those reforms included offering more than 1.6 million children, from poor families, a daily school meal along a free education.

Teachers have also paid a heavy price for their resistance. At least 10 teachers have been assassinated since the coup, dozens have been beaten and imprisoned, and hundreds dismissed. The de facto regime has also attempted to starve the organization of resources by withholding membership dues and attacking the teachers’ social security fund.

Ms. Diaz Cuellar will speak on Thursday, Feb. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at the CYO Hall at 4th and Steele St. Her talk is entitled: Learning the cost of democracy, teachers fight to restore rights in Honduras. All are welcome to attend.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.