Cuso International has in fact ordered all of us to stay home, and even the Honduran organization I work for is closing its doors for the day. Cuso has talked about flying us back to Canada out of Guatemala City if the post-election scene really gets wild.
I’m having a hard time imagining my Copaneco neighbors getting wild, but I guess we’ll see. I found myself buying an extra jar of peanut butter at the grocery store today and stocking up on dog food just in case. Honduras is a democracy, but my sense of the place is they haven’t really got the hang of that system just yet. In 2009, the government of Mel Zelaya was overthrown in a military coup, something fairly untypical for a democratic country. The current president was elected democratically the following year, but the wounds from the coup are still pretty raw.
Zelaya’s wife is running in this election under the banner of a new party, Libre, which has added an interesting undercurrent. Certainly things have been zizzy in quiet Copán in recent days, with many trucks decorated in party colors making their way around town in a hunt for treats to transport to the villages today to lure voters. (One of my friends in the Moskitia says her Garifuna community loves election years, because the politicians are always coming around with free meat.)
I wish I could feel excited about the changes a new government might bring. But I don’t see a lot of hope of that. The polls are calling 50-50 between the Nationals and Libre, and I don’t think either outcome would give Honduras the dynamic, committed government that it so desperately needs. There’s a former sports journalist who I’m rooting for, running on an anti-corruption platform, but the election will almost certainly go either to the conservatives or the slightly-less conservatives, as seems to be the way of the democratic world right now.
At any rate, this is a country that is still very much governed by wealthy families with long histories here. My sense is that they will get what they want. I just wish they wanted competent government, because you sure don’t see nearly enough of that down here. One of the country’s crazier political policies is a prohibition preventing presidents from serving more than one four-year term. It’s intended to prevent the buildup of power that can lead to a dictatorship, but how it manifests is as a disruptive and destabilizing force that condemns the poor country to spin its wheels ever more.
While most governments of the world are self-serving these days, the lack of voter accountability that results from a single four-year term has created a monster in Honduras. Government takes no responsibility for addressing the country’s staggering problems, none of which are going to go away in a four-year term. I see more hope at the municipal level, but politicians at that level have neither the power nor the money to do much. But hey, nothing would make me happier than to be wrong about all of this. Maybe the very nice people of Honduras are finally going to get a government that takes its responsibilities seriously. Maybe you really can work miracles in a mere four years. Maybe even hungry people get to thinking sooner or later that one day of free meat is a lousy trade for 1,459 days of neglectful, uninterested governance.
Go, Honduras. You deserve so much better. (11/24/13) (photo courtesy Associated Press)
Note: The author is a former journalist from Canada. She currently lives in the town of Copán Ruinas, Honduras, and volunteers with Cuso International, a Canadian development agency that matches skilled professionals to organizations in developing countries. She writes a blog called A Closer Look.