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Honduras — invisible country… (page 3 of 4)

K. Sapozhnikov (January 2008)
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Santa Lucia
Because of ever alarming weather reports on approaching «Dean» storm to the sores of Honduras I refused from the trip to the Caribbean coast of the country having chosen the more close routes to Tegus – to the city of Santa Lucia, Valle de Angeles (Valley of Angels) and former capital – Comayagua.

Santa Lucia is a clean city with the history dating back to the beginning of the 16th century. The first residents of Santa Lucia were miners digging silver for Spanish crown. When it exhausted, the village residents started primitive trade and flower growing. But even this has gone into the past. Nowadays, Santa Lucia is living through the construction boom: the Honduran elite is constructing bungalows and cottages there. The city which is situated one and a half kilometers above the sea level, has an ideal micro-climate, comfortable temperature, fresh air, soaked in pine-tree aroma.

Valle de Angeles
In Valle de Angeles, everything seemed to be designed for reception of tourists. Souvenir kiosks and shops, tiny snack-bars and coffee shops, pleasure micro-taxis and horse carts. But everything exists as if on its own in the removed, unreal world, in which restless tourists are perceived by the residents as an annoying hindrance to melancholic contemplation of the nature and habitual routine daily events. Involuntarily you start thinking that Valle de Angeles has preserved the past of Honduras till the end of the XIXth century, and the XXth century has not started yet.

On the way to Comayagua in about 50 kilometers from Tegus, I saw a road sign with the name of Palmerola. There is a USA Air Force base there. The taxi that I hired, ran for quite some time on the highway along the endless blank fence and barbed wire obstacles. When in Honduras they speak about the burning need of a new capital airfield, they always recollect Palmerola. Landing of heavy passenger planes in the airfield «Toncontin» is prohibited. Too much risk. The only suitable place for transfer of «Toncontin» is Palmerola with practically ready «infrastructure» for servicing the national and international flights.

But Americans are not going to refuse from their base. And its clear, strategic interests: assurance of the Panama canal security, monitoring of illegal drug trafficking on land, air and sea, permanent electronic surveillance of the countries with «populist regimes» and, first of all, of Venezuela. Besides, the president of Ecuador Rafael Correa has warned that after expiry of the lease term in 2009, the Americans will have to abandon their base in Manta. No way, they can't do without Palmerola.

In 1962 one of the presently forgotten advocates of «anti-communist front» published an article with a catchy headline - «Can a Soviet base be constructed in Honduras?»1 At the height of the «cold war» such question in itself could not but arouse anxiety among the Hondurans: can't «reds» be approaching? Have they already reached even Honduras? The author has narrated about the hopeless need of Hondurans, about children, begging at the square Morazan, about total corruption and unemployment. «Absence of perspectives, - the journalist stressed, - makes all malcontent secretly listen to the Radio of Moscow and Radio Habana or read subversive booklets spread by communist agents». Primary school teachers and students, supporters of Front for university reform were named as the main propagandists of «reds». According to the author, it was them, who helped to promote communist expansion into the country, and therefore it was urgently needed to financially help right forces in Honduras: 9 million dollars would be enough, but under a good supervision, as the Honduran elite is endowed with irrepressible grasping instinct. Everything would be allegedly stolen, having forgotten the sacred goals of fighting the «reds». So that is the content of the alarming article. The issue of possible appearance of the Soviet base in Honduras was used as a propaganda trick to call the West to render financial assistance to the government of a «strong hand».

And foreign military bases in Honduras were created by the demand of the only country – the United States.

The former capital Comayagua will still have to do a lot to become a tourist attraction as, say Antigua in Guatemala. The only face-lift of architectural monuments and existence of a couple of museums is not sufficient at all. But still it is all in plans for the future. Even the house, where the most respected president of the country Jose Trinidad Cabañas2 («has not misappropriated a single lempira from the state treasury!») used to live, has been waiting for restoration for more than thirty years!

Nevertheless, the city arouses the feeling of warmth, cosiness and safety, which is possibly explained by a «human factor». The residents are friendly, considerate, easy to get in touch with, not that self-absorbed as in a slightly gloomy Tegus or Valle de Angeles.

Pupusas al natural
In Comayagua I got acquainted with an artist, who was openly bored near his «portable vernisage» while waiting for buyers. Little by little, we got acquainted. Ricardo Atala, of about 40, coming from the family of a port clerk, a «typical catracho» as for approach towards life: it is better to be happy with little than have nothing. He strictly follows this principle, and he lives easily, freely, in harmony with the outer world, in which, unfortunately, there is a lot of envy, injustice and hostility.

Ricardo does not like to stay at one place for a long time, frequently changes cities, preferring those, of course, which are visited by foreign tourists. By profession he is a teacher of history. But he did not work at school for a long time. Irresistible passion to decorative art has got an upper hand. Ricardo started to paint in childhood (he calls himself a self-taught person) in the city of Trujillo, the same city, where the American «filibuster» Walker, who was trying to become a ruler of the Central America, is buried.

Atala is specialising in naif pictures of «political genre», draws his inspiration in the history of the country, preferring the instructive and moralistic plots, «blending» of past and present characters. Here you see an Indian chief Lempira3 in loincloth and spear in his hand speaking in the national parliament, saying: «You will hear about us». Here is Fransisco Morazan wearing a cocked hat and worn uniform, who is being turned out from the platform with guests of honor during celebrations on the occasion of independence of the country (the name of the picture is «Not recognised»). The character of Walker is also present in the works of Ricardo. The filibuster is sarcastically smiling, pointing his bony finger to watch towers of the American Air Force base in Palmerola: «They forgot my bitter experience».

The artist agreed with my opinion that his activity is «ideologized»:

- Many people used to tell me that. But I do not belong to any party. All my plots may be a natural reaction to falsehood, demagogy and social indifference of our government. I don't like its peaceful coexistence with oligarchs, disregard of people needs, and most of all – grovelling before the «Embajada», which keeps on bringing up, teaching and pulling the ears of us, the Hondurans. It turns out that we are doing everything not the way it should be done.

I already knew what Ricardo meant when he mentioned «Embajada». In Honduras it means, first of all, the «embassy of the United States».

Ricardo did not conceal his critical attitude towards state of things in Honduras:

- We live from one corruption scandal to another. Europeans gave heavy finances to social programs, improvement of urban infrastructure, modernisation of agriculture, and what is the result»? Practically everything was stolen. That is the tradition! That is why the donor countries one by one refuse from charity. Even the patience of Sweden has run out.4 Financial help of Taiwan is a life buoy for authorities. They panic at the island, fewer and fewer countries maintain diplomatic relations with them. In order to keep them, Taipei has to encourage the last allies in Latin America and the Caribbean with money, not very much insisting to report about their expenses. Taiwan prime minister in August had a meeting with our president and ministers and to all requests about financial assistance was readily giving a «yes».

Via Oriente
The picture with the subject of «international bribes» has not been yet made by Ricardo, but he is going to with Chinese implication. According to him, Beijing will beat Taiwan competitors using the same powerful in Honduras conditions financial leverage. There are still no diplomatic relations with PRC, but Chinese are methodically sticking to their guns, and, as foreseen by Ricardo, will get what they want within 5 to 6 years.

So far Chinese are penetrating in Honduras «without prior arrangement», using the well established routes via Nicaragua and Cuba. According to the official statistics about 4 to 5 thousand Chinese live in the country, but nobody can guarantee the accuracy of these data, as hundreds of Chinese use the territory of Honduras for transit to the USA and Canada.

I complained that in Tegucigalpa there are almost no book stores (in other Honduran cities, I think, the things are not better). Ricardo agreed with me, yes, Hondurans actually do not read much. They were discouraged from this habit during the times of dictator regimes. The one who reads — is potentially dangerous.

1. Hafter, Rudolph P., “En Honduras, puede darse una futura base sovietica?» Published in magazine: «Cuadernos”, Paris, diciembre de 1962. See the reprint of the article in the book: “La Mano Roja. Secretos de las tacticas comunistas en America”, Santiago de Chile, 1963.
2. Jose Trinidad Cabañas (born on 9.06.1805 – died on 8.01.1871). Ruled the country from 1852 to 1855.
3. National monetary unit is named after him.
Lempira - the currency of Honduras

4. Charles A. Ford, ambassador of the USA to Honduras, in August 2007 declared that out of 3000 revealed cases of corruption only 11 were investigated, whose cases were submitted to the Supreme Court.

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