Friday, 28 May 2010

Well, it has been a while since our last post. Back then our lives were filled with themes such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, coup d'├ętats, elections, and all the other thrills we experienced while living in Honduras. However, in the last year, our focus has changed, and we are now experiencing the ultimate thrill: PARENTHOOD.

We have never been exactly great at keeping up on the blog, but we figure now that Felix the Wonder Kid has arrived, it would be worth trying to renew our efforts, especially since we are once again a world away from most of our loved ones, this time in lovely London.

To set the bar low, please recognize that these blogs might be quite brief, as they will mostly be written one handed while I attempt to simultaneously feed this hungry little bundle of joy and make contact with the outside world.

It is said that a picture is worth a 1000 words, so I'm hoping this video might be able to compensate a little for the absence of correspondence during the first six weeks of young Felix's life. He keeps getting cuter and more interested in the world around him every day, and he absolutely overwhelms and delights his parents with his beautiful, gummy smile. Thought it might delight some of you as well...

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Pushing The Honduran Coup Reset Button

Coups... who really wants one? Nobody. But if it does happen in your country, better find a quick reset button that everybody can live with. The best reset? An election. This November 29th, Honduras is holding an election that needs to be recognised by the international community because, right now, Honduras is a de facto anarchy. Children have been out of school for half of the year, narco-traffickers are taking over the country, crime rates are rising out of control (I hear automatic gunfire almost every night from Las Mercedes just south of our barrio, Sauce), and some reports suggest that among the poorest of the poor, some are even dying of hunger. One colleague admitted to me that if Honduras gets hit by a hurricane this year, "we're totally screwed" because COPECO, the Honduran department of disaster preparedness and response, doesn't have the logistical means or resources to respond. "The most vulnerable communities will simply be washed away and nobody will be there to help," he said. Honduras needs a government again.

So, with this in mind, as a budding academic living in Honduras, myself, I respectfully take issue with a forth-coming open letter to President Obama that has been passed around among Latin American scholars. It makes some ill-advised recommendations about the upcoming election.

"Dear President Barak Obama,

We are writing to urge you to stand with democracy and human rights in Honduras. With only days left before the scheduled November 29 elections the U.S. government must make a choice: it can either side with democracy, along with every government in Latin America, or it can side with the coup regime, and remain isolated. Moreover,
the U.S. cannot afford to maintain its deafening silence regarding the innumerable and grave human rights abuses committed by the coup government in Honduras - a silence that has become a conspicuous international embarrassment. The U.S. must forcefully denounce these abuses, and match its words with action as well. It must make the coup regime understand that the United States government will no longer tolerate the violence and repression that the Micheletti government has practiced against the Honduran people since seizing power on June 28, 2009.

Honduras now stands at the edge of a dangerous precipice. The coup regime remains determined - in the absence of significant pressure from the U.S. government - to move forward with the elections, in the hopes that the international community will eventually recognize the results. In so doing, they hope to legitimize their illegal and unconstitutional government.

Free and fair elections on November 29 are already impossible, as more than two-thirds of the campaign period allowed under Honduran law has already passed, under conditions in which freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press have all been under attack throughout the country. This repression has been widely documented and denounced by Honduran and international human rights organizations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.

The Rio Group of 23 nations, which includes nearly all of Latin America and much of the Caribbean, had forcefully declared that it will not recognize the November 29th elections if President Zelaya is not first re-instated. Thus the United States is at odds with the rest of the Hemisphere in its stated willingness to recognize these illegitimate elections.

Free and fair elections can only be carried out in a climate in which debating, organizing, and all other aspects of election campaigns can be conducted in an atmosphere that is free from fear; in which all views and parties are free to make their voices heard - not just those that are allowed under an illegal military occupation. We therefore call on the U.S. government to support an electoral process in Honduras that allows for a full three months - as mandated under Honduran law - for electoral campaigning, to take place after the restoration of President Manuel Zelaya. Only in this way can the electoral process achieve legitimacy in both the eyes of the Honduran people and the international community.

In the months that have transpired since the April Summit of the Americas, we are saddened to see that your promise of treating Latin American nations as equals is evaporating. You declared at that time, "I just want to make absolutely clear that I am absolutely opposed and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments, wherever it happens in the hemisphere." In remarks that were recorded, cited, and broadcast all over the world, you asserted: "The test for all of us is not simply words, but also deeds." Since then, your government has failed to match these words with deeds regarding the coup d'etat in Honduras. As a result, the United States is once again isolating itself in the Americas.

The U.S. must also match its rhetorical commitment to democracy with concrete deeds, and support the immediate restoration of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency of Honduras and full guarantees of a free and fair election.

[A long list of brilliant and respected scholars]"

First, I take issue with the rigid tone and language, and would add that it makes use of unhelpfully divisive hyperbole. It ascribes a malicious intentionality to the coup regime, conjuring up memories of the "axis of evil/either you're with us or against us" days of international decision-making. Unwittingly, the letter defines most of Honduran society as "against us", too. Here's how: right now, the "coup regime", de facto president Micheletti and his cabinet, has ceded to almost all of Zelaya's demands in negotiations, including his limited return to power. However, congress is holding up the passage by abstaining from a vote. The diputados (departmental representatives) don't want to vote for Zelaya's reinstatement because it may affect their electability in the upcoming election, as Zelaya's reinstatement is extremely unpopular. So, the article makes the case that a sinister "regime" is behind the delay, when really congress, and by extension, the Honduran people are guilty.

Secondly, the coup wasn't a "violent overthrow". Mel Zelaya was removed from office (legally) and exiled (illegally) without a drop of blood being shed, initially. It's true there has been some scant violence against protesters, which happens several times a year in London. Too, more worryingly, there have been what look like political hits. The "golpistas" (coup leaders) have been less an actively malignant force than a passively malignant force. Claims of active repression, brutality and violence are well-documented and possibly over-stated (and notably unreferenced in this letter). But the real violence has been the diverted government resources, the aid freeze, the de facto trade embargo, the "alza de petroleo" (sharply rising gas prices), and the remittance and visa freezes. The economic situation is generally very difficult at all levels, with a disproportionate effect to the abjectly poor. I already mentioned the reports of starvation in some poor areas. Business is very bad for the common man/woman in Honduras. The consensus within Honduras is very kitchen-table: "la unica salida, the only way out of this mess is the election."

This brings me to my last sticking point with the letter: it threatens to impede the elections. "The only way out is the election," I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say this, and I whole-heartedly agree. Honduras needs to hold elections to hit the reset button. If countries don't recognise the next president, it would have a desperately destabilising effect, as Honduras has essentially become a de facto anarchy; it's running without a government. The possibility of an unrecognised election would damage and demoralise Honduran society. Honduras desperately needs a new president in order for the normal functions of government to resume.

I'm already signed up as an election monitor!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

This is a test of your political philosophy... I repeat, this is only a test

I have to admit it. The political crisis in Honduras has stumped me. I'm stumped. We've just celebrated our 4-week mark under the new regime, and I still don't know what to think about it. Believe me, I understand the situation pretty darn well, but I don't know whether to feel relieved or disappointed that the military arrested Mel in his pyjamas and flew him to Costa Rica. For me, this is a strange sensation to be at a loss for a snap judgement when it comes to politics. Snap judgements aside, I can't even come up with a lag judgement! (This usually a lot easier for me...)

Disclosure: The Honduran Political Crisis has me feeling like a right-wing hack, for example when I read the Wall Street Journal with enthusiastic agreement. That's a weird feeling because...

Disclosure: I'm a bleeding heart liberal whose decision to leave the United States admittedly had a little to do my shattered nerves following George W. Bush's election to a second term. I cried tears of joy when Obama was elected. I'm hugely supportive of universal health care in the United States. I think the government should provide heavy funding for education, for research for all types of scientific and technological advancement, for the arts, etc., etc., etc. I think we should regulate our economies to create markets that distribute wealth and opportunity equitably, and protect our environment. Blah, blah, blah, you get the point. So, what's my problem with Mel Zelaya's plan for a left-ward shift in Honduran society? Shouldn't I feel more supportive of him? Shouldn't I be cheering him on, like I did when "el Bigote" was elected in 2005? (Viene Mel, Viene Mel, Urge Mel!!!) Why?

Five points:
1. First, the situation is complex and historical.
This story has been building for a long time. Mel has been cozying up to Chavez for the better part of 4 years. Political vision aside, not a single last Honduran that I have met has any patience for Chavez. We can all mostly agree that he's truly bellicose, brash and buffoon-ish. Nevertheless, Honduras has signed into PetroCaribe and ALBA, and we're all wondering, "how far is this thing going to go with Venezuela?" If that doesn't make you uncomfortable (which it doesn't me), Mel has been subjecting the country to his abysmal management style for a long time. Corruption, narco-trafficking and gang violence has exploded under Mel's supervision, so almost everyone's unhappy on some level. (I, myself, heard the clack-clack-clack of assault rifles making mincemeat of two men in a truck from my morningbed about a month ago!!) In this context, Mel begins shoving, in bold face, an arguably illegal set of actions on the country to make himself president for another 4 years, and with more discretionary power! "If this is the direction Mel has taken the country, what happens when he gets an unfettered carte blanche?" we're all thinking. It was an irresistible temptation, really, when he violated laws that somebody threw him out of office. I, for one, envisioned the police kicking down Mel's door a thousand miles away, and I'm not even a political analyst. Not that I disagree with his intent.

2. Second, neither national nor international media sources are impartial brokers of information in this case. No way.
Let me just say: I've never felt so betrayed by the international media. The media jumped into this situation with political preconceptions about the events without comprehending the context. It's a bizarre sensation to be told one thing, and to experience something altogether different --all the while people all over the world accept it as gospel truth-- and you're powerless to do anything about it. On the other hand, they're closing ranks in the national media; opposition t.v. and radio stations are being harassed a bit and even closed in some situations. In sum, I never thought it until now: establishment media = error. (Long Live MSM 2.0! Look it up; it includes you.)

3. Third, there's enough hand-dirt and face-egg to spread around
I'm sympathetic with Mel's desire to reform the constitution, along with earnest labour organisations, ethnic groups and reformers, but he made his own political ambitions and destiny inextricably part of the reforms. Bad. And he linked the reforms to the style of government Chavez has promoted. Doubly bad. (See point 5) On the other side, the military acted impetuously in exiling Mel. Bad. Bad. But they followed civilian orders by arresting Mel, as the Supreme court ordered his arrest. ...Good? By the way, did you catch the interim government's first international overture:

"I've worked with fags, prostitutes, pinkos, blacks and whites. This is my work. I studied this. I don't have racial prejudices. I like the little black man from the cane fields that's presiding over the United States."--Enrique Ortez Colindres, interim Foreign Minister.


Coming this weekend:
points 4 and 5.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Coup in Honduras

O.k. y'all. There's been a coup in Honduras. You should have heard from the international press by now. I was in Iriona, Departamento de Colon (La Mosquitia... you know... the Mosquito Coast?) doing a pilot study for my PhD when it happened. I had to be crafty upon my return to La Ceiba... let's just put it that way.... My feeling is that everything is going to be fine. This is a different era of Latin American coup-making. These aren't the 1970's. If you are curious for details about our opinions, please contact us!

Earthquakes, flooding, coup. Wow, what an exciting country! (There are lots of cool things happening in between the crazy stuff, too!)

Thursday, 28 May 2009

La Ceiba Earthquake!!!!

O.k. I'm new at the blogging thing, and a little flaky. But this story is worth telling. So, I'm in Honduras doing my PhD in disaster risk to hurricanes. All day long, I think about the things that make people vulnerable to massive Atlantic tropical storms. But last night at 3:24 I was thrown a curve ball: a massive 7.1 earthquake.

I had just gotten up to go to the bathroom, and was back in bed settling into sleep again. Suddenly, the bed starts bouncing. The Persian windows start rattling furiously. And the low, ominous rumbling begins. Two thoughts race into my head. As a Californian, I know a little bit about earthquakes. You take cover in doorways or in open areas outside. As a risk researcher in Latin America, I know that the favoured construction methods (cinderblock and cement) aren't very resilient to impacts. (In 2001 I had experienced an earthquake in Peru that had left extensive and acute damage.) These two ideas produce a miniature panic attack.

Our computer table is swaying. I pull Desirae out of bed - she still doesn't know what's going on - and start the panicky push toward the front door. Desi had dead-bolted the door and hidden the key. The ground beneath us is bouncing. Desi, still in the fog of sleep, is fumbling with the keys, while I, shot through with adrenaline, prepare myself to kick down the front door. Desi opens the door about the time the shaking stops. We walk out side on the balcony, and the city's power blinks. A huge blue flash comes from the direction of the city centre, then the power comes back on.

As we waited for aftershocks on the balcony, my initial thought was that somewhere, surely, loads and loads of people had been affected, injured and killed. Our internet was down, so I was unable to check the USGS website for seismic activity. Warily, we went back to sleep. A few hours later, a small tremor woke me up again.

At 8:00 a.m. reports about the damage come in. To my surprise, this huge earthquake left only minor human casualties. (As of 12 hours beyond the event, 5 deaths have been reported across the entire country.) I am a hurricane specialist, so I have to admit, I know very little about patterns of impact with respect to earthquakes, but I am shocked that Honduras has been so resilient. The cosmic irony in all of this is that I'm here studying massive hurricanes and along comes a massive earthquake.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Even rockstars get nervous before a show. Especially if they haven't practiced.

I hadn't even held a guitar in my hands for more than a year, much less a bass guitar. Until last night. But last night I became a cover-band bass-playing rockstar. This week the Catholic countries of the world are celebrating Semana Santa, Crucifixion Week. Here in La Ceiba, the ceibe├▒os commemorate Jesus's legal entanglements by maximising 1) their skin's exposure to the sun and 2) their liver's exposure to beer (what could be more logical?). I got swept up in the religious fervor with an invitation to accompany singer/guitarist Jason, the General, on the bass at El Bar Expatriados. We played to a full house with covers of Beck, Wilco, Pixies, OutKast, Weezer, Beatles, Modest Mouse, etc. It should come as no surprise that we got the most mileage out of "Faith" by George Michael... (Faith -> Semana Santa -> Jesus...?) I made 50 bucks for two hours of rock: way more than I ever earned in 3 years with my college band, the Player Piano. Our two biggest groupies were two little Honduran girls in princess dresses and tiaras doing the chicken dance. We play again on Thursday. (I'll post pictures.)

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

When it rains, it pours!

We've now been in La Ceiba for over a month, but today marks the first day we've had any rain worth mentioning. Here, you never really know your neighborhood until after you've experienced a rainstorm. When it rains, you learn what streets flood - my experience is that most do - but that is putting it simply.

There are various classifications I make for "flooding". Class I: the type of flooding that you tiptoe through, hoping the water won't reach past the soles of your shoes (usually lasts the first 5 minutes of the storm.) Class II: at this point, you can either giving up on the idea of shoes, put on flip flops, roll up your pants and hike, or find a pair of knee high galoshes. Class III: all the world is a wading pool - although not the kind you want to be swimming in. Class IV: it is now questionable whether the street is passable for cars and walkers should be prepared to battle waves. Class V+ are not uncommon, but if things get to this point I usually just stay put until things dry out (could be 10 minutes, could be a day.)

Our neighborhood floods. From our balcony, we watched the waves roll up and down the street. The rain is one reason I enjoy living on the second floor - it has a kind of Noah's ark effect, minus the crowds (only animal found on our ark today was a thumb sized gecko - very cute by the way.) No rainbows either.
Hope that isn’t a bad sign...

Also, based on today's experience, it looks as though during any given rainstorm, we will have the pleasure of an indoor waterfall cascading down our wall. Kind of pretty when wet, but looks more like urine stains once dried.

All in all it was a good day. The rain has cooled down the temperature a good 15-20 degrees, which comes as a much appreciated relief and David didn’t have to water the plants.