The elections came and went…

 

I didn’t end up going to Yoro with my friend for the weekend of the elections… I came downstairs for breakfast on Saturday morning and told my host mum I was going away with my friend and coming back Sundaybut she quickly advised me not to. She insisted it was too dangerous and risky and if I really wanted to go, she wanted me to phone my parents in England too and ask them for permission – but I knew if I mentioned the Word ‘dangerous’ to my mum she would put a stop to my plans straight away too. I am also really close to my host family and I have so much respect to my host parents, they really are the most lovely people, so I decided to stay in Tegus.

 

On Saturday I headed to el centro with Julia and her host sister – she is only 9 years old and it was her first time on a rapidito bus. Julia had a slightly awkward moment when her sister noticed a sticker on the bus saying ‘I love’ before a diagram of a couple doing the dirty. I guess the buses are that child friendly. Anyway, after lunch and doing some errands I headed home to finish something I had been making for my host sisters – I will post a pic soon!

 

So Sunday came and I safely hid away in my house feeling like if I stepped out of my house someone might run at me and be offended I wasn’t wearing the colour of their chosen party. This weekend was actually the first time I had the feeling that I was living in a dangerous country – nothing is ever written about Honduras without the ‘highest murder rate in the world’ being mentioned, but I’ve never felt Honduras was that dangerous. But this weekend, with all the hype, it definitely felt different (it turned out that, as far as I’m aware, nothing particularly violent happened so no worries there). One of my host sisters did take me to vote with her though and it was so interesting! It was mostly the same as how we vote in the UK – you go to the school where you are registered to vote, go to a private booth, fill in your votes and then pop it into a secure box. But there were a few little differences…

 

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I have only voted once in the UK (as I was 20 for the last elections) so I can’t remember it that well but I’m pretty sure the partition to vote in was a little more secure than a cardboard box…

 

                     

 

 

 

2. I’m also pretty sure that we don’t have faces on our ballot papers (although I could be wrong, I really can’t remember!):

 

 

 

     
This is the ballot for the presidencial candidates but, in Tegus, they were also voting for local candidates  – and there were a lot. 23 for each party to be exact. So the sheet was huge and had faces of every person. My host sister told me that you have to be sure to pick all 23 candidates or the people that count the votes could easily put more ticks against people they are supporting. I know when I voted that I only voted for the prime minister and left the rest blank – but there would never be any chance of someone filling out the rest!
 
3. To stop people possibly trying to vote twice, voters have to sign their name on a register and also have their little finger painted black – so when they go in to vote,someone checks their hands to make sure they don’t already have the black mark. And the ink lasts 2 weeks so there is no way they can wash it off in time to try and vote twice…
ImageIt’s kind of a selfie craze on the day with everyone posting pictures on Facebook of their black finger to show they have voted… maybe it will catch on in the UK one day!
 
It was really interesting to see the little differences between how the UK and Hondurans vote – ICYE nearly didn’t let volunteers come to Honduras this summer due to the elections but I’m so glad I was here for them and got to experience it. It has been really interesting to see and I have found myself getting really caught up in it, more than I do for elections at home! Like England, there was a TV channel that broadcast the whole voting process showing people across the country putting their ballots in the boxes. I was with my host sisters, host dad and Julia watching as the results began to filter through. I can only think to compare the feeling I had in my stomach as the same as getting my degree results – it felt like the whole thing had been going on so long and there was such a big build up, and so we would know the results and that would be it. I was feeling really tense – I can only imagine what Hondurans were feeling. 
 
Around 9pm they announced the first 25% of the results – Juan Orlando was ahead. And he was ahead enough that it was unlikely to change no matter what the other 75% of the voting population decided – he had won. I went to bed at this point as I felt pretty down about it. I have been trying to be neutral through the elections but I have to say, from my point of view at least, Juan Orlando is not the right choice for Honduras right now. He was part of the government that threw out Zelaya and started a period of political instability. He had already broken the law by being head of congress and running for president at the same time. And he is blue – he will help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Therefore, widening the gap between rich and poor – which will inevitably cause more instability and violence; which is exactly what Honduras doesn’t need. I can’t say who would have been better for Honduras but I feel the result of the election will not bring good things for this beautiful country. Juan Orlando insists he will ensure more security by putting a policeman or solider ‘on ever cornor’ – but with it being commonly known police are often corrupt and soliders demonstrating excessive violence, I can’t help but think this isn’t a step in the right direction. 
 

Another issue I have with the elections in Honduras is the margin that the leading party needs to win – in the UK, the leading party needs at least 50% of the vote to win. This can be awkward, especially as in the last elections we had 3 strong parties instead of 2, so we now have a coalition – which hasn’t been all that successful. But at least the winning party, or coalition, has the majority. Honduras’ system requires the winning party to lead by only 1%! So, for example, if there were only two parties running and one got 51% while the other 49% – despite this tiny difference, the party with only 2% would win. Obviously there were a lot more parties than 2 running for presidency, 8 to be exact. In the end (from 70% of the vote) Juan Orlando won with 34% of the vote. So that means that only 34% of the voting population want him as their next leader – a huge 66% don’t want to be lead by him. That makes no sense to me – how can someone effectively run a country when the majority of it’s people don’t agree with their policies. That is just how I see it anyway, I’m sure many people would question how the UK run their elections too… 

In the end, after many people predicted the main losing party would do something drastic, there were some demonstrations by the Libre party the day after the elections, but only a few and they were mostly peaceful. It was safe to go out and live life normally again. So me and Julia headed off to City Mall and went by amarillo bus – the bus that is only 4 lempiras and so has quite poor people on it usually. I noticed that I couldn’t see anyone witha blackend finger, to show they’d voted. I was really surprised by this, as after the build up to the elections, I assumed that a huge number of people would vote. I asked my host family that evening and they told me that, in the end, just under 2 million people voted. The population of Honduras is 8 million, with around 5 million registered to vote (it has a very young population so many are under voting age). They said this was a good turn out and the highest they had had – but to me it seemed low after how passionate everyone seemed about the next leader. But my family told me that, due to the high level of poverty in Honduras many people don’t have the means to get to the voting polls, the education to realise voting can change their country or the knowledge to know who to vote for. I think this is really sad as the people who need help the most are failing to have influence on their country’s politics – it is also likely that, if this people did vote, they would likely not vote for Juan Orlando’s party. They would vote for a party that would do more for those in poverty. 

So those are my views on the elections – I really tried to be impartial during them but it’s difficult not to get swept up in the drama of it all. Today, all anyone can talk about in my project is the elections. The director even told them off for talking to much and not working! But people are so passionate about politics here, which is great – it’s such a shame their new leader is someone only a third of them want. 

 

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Honduras elections!

It is only 2 days until the Honduras elections… and you would be pretty clueless to not know it. You can’t go anywhere without seeing about a hundred posters of different candidate’s faces. You can’t go on a bus without hearing a song about a candidate. You can’t sit with a group of Hondurans without the conversation quickly steering to who is going to win. It is drastically different to our approach to politics in the UK – in the UK we argue about who is the worst and often struggle to have much passion for any particular party, whereas in Honduras they support a party with an unrivalled passion and insist their party should win. In the UK it is also a social taboo to ask someone who they are voting for… which leads me to always ask people cautiously who they are supporting, but that is quickly followed by confident cheers for their chosen party and a list of reasons why the other parties are wrong. I was driving somewhere with my host mum the other day and we went past a campaign tent of her party with a big picture of their leader waving in the wind and my host mum honked her horn as we went past and screamed ‘wooohooo’ out of the window as the campaigners whooped back at her. Can you imagine a David Cameron tent surrounded by people cheering? Or Ed Miliband… Nick Clegg maybe? I didn’t think so. It is so different here but it’s a lot more interesting. Even though I’m not supporting a party and I will have left Honduras by the time the new president is in charge, it is hard not to get caught up in it and get apprehensive about who is going to win. 

Yesterday I was out with my project when about 8 of the staff started to have a heated debate about their respective parties – half were supporting Villeda (the Liberal party) and the other half Xiomara (the new Libre party – although they were saying her husband’s name, Mel, as he was the previous president of Honduras who was exiled in the 2009 coup). The conversation got pretty heated with a couple of people walking off in the middle – but as soon as the conversation was over everyone was friends ago. It is crazy to watch. And today everyone in my project went for lunch together and on our walk back to the office we saw the following painted on a wall…

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Obama is in the middle with the faces of all of the presidencial candidates around him – the main 3 are Villeda (on the far left), Xiomara (to the right of Obama with her hubby Mel Zelaya) and Juan Orlando on the far right. The caption below says “Todas/os comen en la misma mesa del senor” – which means “They all eat at the same table as the sir” and below is the date of the elections. Basically, it is saying that it doesn’t matter who wins as all the money Honduras has comes from the US and therefore the president will be fed by Obama, regardless of whoever wins on Sunday. There was a huge crowd gathered around this picture with everyone debating it. Seriously, Honduras is fascinating. 

The atmosphere has also become quite apprehensive as the elections approach – we have been recommended by ICYE to stay indoors on Sunday and, if we do venture out, to make sure we wear nuetral colours not associated with any particular party. A friend told me her payday was today, 2 days early, so that she could buy supplies like food and water, in case something happens and people can’t leave their houses. I am going to the north of Honduras with a friend to visit his family – when I told someone at my project this, she looked so worried and made me promise to send her regular updates that I’m OK on Sunday. Obviously from all of the build up I’ve seen and how passionate people can get about the politics here I know it will be a tense day on Sunday, but to me… it all just seems a bit crazy. Hopefully the actual day will be a lot calmer than some people are predicting. One of my friends even told me that she was sure if Xiomara wins that she won’t last a day and she will be taken out of the country, much like her husband 4 years ago. I will keep you all updated next week…! 

Tears, Death and Politics

So this might be quite a random post but I have a few things I want to talk about and I thought I might as well pull it all into one, quite random, blog post.

 

Tears.

I have barely cried while I’ve been in Honduras, maybe just a couple of times. Which is odd for me – I used to cry a lot but I guess I’ve had a lot more to be happy about than sad about during the past 10 months. But it seemed to all build up this week and spill out at once. I went to church with my host mum and two sisters on Sunday evening – my host mum had been at a camp for the weekend with the church and all the women who went did a speech to thank God and their families. I’m not religious but seeing so much emotion just brought the tears spilling out and I couldn’t stop crying until we left the church. I felt emotionally drained afterwards and I wasn’t sure why…

I thought that was it for the tears but they reappeared the next day – I was at my project when I got bad news from home. I couldn’t hold my emotions back and right there in the middle of the school in Guanabano I cried. Then I went home and cried some more… a lot more. I just couldn’t stop! My family in Honduras were wonderful though and I managed to skype my Dad and sister the next day (the first time since March!!) for some comforting reassurance from home. So the tears have stopped now, I’m not sure where they came from, but I’m glad I’m feeling a little more emotionally stable at the moment!

 

Death.

As well as dealing with the bad news on Monday, I happened to also see my first dead body in Honduras that day. We were on the bus back to the city from Guanabano when everyone on the bus suddenly jumped up and started clamouring to get a view out of the window. I had no idea what was going on… until I looked out the window myself and saw a boy, he didn’t look to be older than me, lying on the ground, face down. He had been shot and dumped – mostly likely due to being involved in drugs and gangs.

It wasn’t so much the body that shook me up but people’s reaction to it. This is one of the things I find hardest to accept about Honduras – the attitude towards death and how to treat a dead body. It is treated as a form of entertainment, with crowds gathering around the body trying to get the story, and pictures of the body splashed all over the newspaper the next day. And anyone that I mentioned the experience to just shrugged it off by saying that it happens all the time here. But does that make it ok? Surely the more casual something like that is treated, the less likely it will be fixed… if a body was shot and dumped on a busy road in England there would be an uproar to find those responsible. In Honduras, it is quietly swept under the carpet. 

 

Politics.

A couple of days ago I noticed an article on the Guardian newspaper website about Honduras. If you care to read it the link is http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/29/honduras-democracy-presidential-election, but proceed with caution. The piece is about the upcoming elections in Honduras next month and it posted in the ‘Comment’ section of the website; so it is opinionated. The article very clearly sways towards the Libre party, completely ignoring one of the other leading parties which is also left, and makes some quite bold claims with little evidence to back it. The article also over-focuses on the US involvement in the 2009 coup – again it declares that the US were the ones to organise it but doesn’t provide must back up to this accusation. It is difficult to say whether a lot of the information in the article is correct but it is interesting that a British newspaper is reporting on Honduras politics. The only press this country gets is usually to do with the little fact of it having the highest murder rate in the world…

Anyway, the elections are getting close. And they are hard to ignore… you literally can’t move anywhere in the city without seeing the faces of Juan Orlando, Xiomara or Villeda. Or their many ministers, mayors etc. I liked it at first as it was an easy way to brush up a bit on Honduras politics but now I’m really sick of having their faces pushed in front of me ALL the time. I was on the bus to my project yesterday and a pick up truck went past with Xiomara/Libre flags on and two very large speakers signing out a song about Xiomara. Just a little over the top isn’t it? Everyone is talking about the elections and they are still over 3 weeks away. The result will be important for Honduras but from what I’ve seen and heard… they’re going to get a bad deal whichever way it goes. 

 

So perhaps not the most positive blogs I have written about Honduras but I still love this country more than ever. However, tomorrow I will be venturing over the border to Nicaragua. As our VISAs run out soon, myself and a few of the other new volunteers will be heading to Granada (note to self – there is more than one Granada in the World, so next time don’t spend half an hour searching hostels in Granada, Spain). We have to leave at 5am in the morning and take 4 buses… but hopefully it will be an easy journey and we will have fun in Granada! I’m definitely ready for a weekend away after the stress of this week 🙂 

 

So until next week, adios!! 

Honduras Buses

This, my friends, is a Honduras bus called a ‘rapidito’. The picture is even a bus that goes right by my neighbourhood, which is kind of exciting! But I had to search a little on Google to find an appropriate picture – if you wanna see some gruesome things you can just type ‘rapiditos honduras’ in Google! I wouldn’t recommend it for the faint hearted. 

So, why the name? Well they go fast – like super fast, like they are trying to win the grand prix. And not just on the, relatively, tarmacked roads. When there is a lot of traffic in the mornings (which is every morning), my rapidito goes through a back route which is a rubble road with A LOT of holes and bumps – and the buses insist on racing through. I have lifted off my seat by a few feet sometimes and I’ve actually considered wearing a sports bra for the journey, seriously it’s painful. But I love the rapiditos – they’re an adventure; they make getting to work fun and I see things that I might not see otherwise. They are also just 10 or 11 Lempiras, which is about 40p. I have met lovely people on these buses too – people who have chatted to me, paid for my bus despite me being ‘rich’ in their eyes and I’ve even been offered a puppy in a box. But today was a different story… 

…today the rapiditos were not my friend. Today the rapiditos screwed me over – ok, it was kinda my fault too but right now I’m mad at the rapiditos! Today I was properly Honduran style late – an hour and 20 minutes! So here’s the story… I had met a girl from the US online who is teaching at the American School in Tegus and we had planned to meet today at Cascadas Mall around 4pm. There are two types of rapiditos – the one in the picture above and a smaller one; which is meant to be more dangerous. So I usually avoid these buses but, annoyingly, the only bus I know of that goes from el centro to Cascadas directly is one of the smaller ones. I had gotten it once before, with Laura, so I headed to where I thought it went from and said, quite clearly, ‘Cascadas’. The guy who collects the money said ‘si baby’ so in I jumped. We then started driving through el centro which was packed with traffic and after about 10 minutes the guy starts shouting (as they do to get more passengers) ‘Quezadas, Quezadas’. SHIT. I was on the wrong bus and this bus was going nowhere near where I wanted to be. 

So, feeling quite nervous, I asked the bus driver to stop in the middle of downtown Comayaguela so I could switch buses. I’ve been in Tegus over 9 months now and I’ve become pretty confident about taking buses and walking around – but this area scares me. Luckily there was a bus that said ‘Carrizal’ right behind that I thought would take to me the mall – I was wrong, again. Basically there is a big road going around Tegus, kind of like a ring road, called ‘El Carrizal’ – but it is so big that there are 3 bus routes that all go round it in different areas. I didn’t realise this, I thought there was just one bus that went around the whole thing and there is a bus that goes from my house to Cascadas Mall called ‘Carrizal’. Therefore, I assumed all ‘Carrizal’ buses went this way but no, I was going somewhere completely different. So as we went further and further out of the city, I kept trying to build the confidence to ask to get off somewhere completely random again. Eventually I did and after running across the busy road, I managed to get on another bus back towards the city. I waited until a point where two types of the Carrizal buses overlapped and go onto a Carrizal bus that actually went to Cascadas. Phew! 

So 4 buses and 43 Lempiras (which is a lot for a bus here) later I finally made it to the mall. My poor new friend had been waiting over an hour for me but luckily she had waited and we managed to have a quick chat before I hopped off to get another bus home. It’s funny that she thinks I am brave because I use buses and walk around… but I am amazed that she has bought a car and dares to drive around the crazy roads here! I have promised to take her with me on a chicken bus sometime before I leave 🙂 

*Update – I just read in an article from a Honduran newspaper that just in the first quarter of 2012, 239 people died from road traffic accidents in Honduras. Scary!

I really don’t know how Hondurans can be late all the time though… I felt so awful to have kept someone waiting like that! But at least now I can tick being late ‘Honduras style’ off my to do list before I leave…

 

And one more thing before I say adios… I just saw this picture on facebook: 

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Juan Orlando is running for president of Honduras. This is like having David Cameron shoes. Enough said. 

 

ADIOS!!!!

Let’s hope that the next elections bring something better for Honduras

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I recently had a big chat with my host sister about the political situation in Honduras – it’s bad. Corruption is shockingly rife and there seems to be no signs of it being improved. The next presidential elections are coming up in November (I will still be here then so slightly nervous…) and the country is covered in posters of the different candidates – although Juan Orlando seems to have an overwhelming majority of the posters. So I thought I would do a post about the elections as it is going to be a huge event in Honduras, and anything could happen, and also as I will be here to see it, it will be important part of my experience here.

So as many of you reading probably won’t know but Honduras had a coup d’état in 2009 – this basically means that the military (controlled by the Congress, not the ruling political party) stormed into the then President’s house in the middle of the night and put him on a plane to Costa Rica. The congress (and it seems like most of the President’s party) weren’t happy with Zelaya (the President at the time) refusing to cancel a referendum about presidential term limits – he was trying to gain more time in charge of the country. Zelaya was also trying to move Honduras more towards the left, with the help of Hugo Chavez, and this worried a large proportion of Hondurans. The Congress deemed Zelaya’s referendum illegal but Zelaya pressed on with it – so instead of resolving the issue with a more legal solution, they exiled him from the country. This led to political instability for months and Honduras becoming politically isolated until a new President was elected.

So what is the situation now? The current President – Porfirio Lobo – has been in power since 2009, however his term has been surrounded in accusations of corruption and violence committed by the state (through corrupt police mostly). There were previously just two main parties in the election but there are now three – and get this, the new third party is headed by the wife of the previous President, Zelaya.  As Honduran presidents are only allowed to rule for one term, Zelaya cannot go for Presidency again so basically he wife is running but it will actually be him running the country – their party, newly formed after the coup, is called the Liberty and Refoundation Party, or Libre for short. The currently ruling party, the National Party, has elected Juan Orlando Hernandez as their next leader and the other party, the Liberal Party, will be headed by Mauricio Villeda. The thing with elections in Honduras is you are not choosing between which of them has the best policies – you are choosing which one you think is least corrupt and who will steal money but might still give something good back to the country. Because they are all corrupt – everyone knows it and it is just the way it is. Can you imagine voting for a Prime Minister and KNOWING he (or she) is going to steal your taxes? When my host sister was telling me this, I just couldn’t get my head around it – the fact that every person in Honduras knows that all their candidates for presidency are corrupt but they have no control to change this. Instead they just have to choose the person they think will actually help the country move forward, while they are stealing – but there is a lot of argument over this. Even within my family, my host mum supports a different party to the rest of my family. I asked my host sister who she thought would win and she said no one knows; it could be anyone. I also can’t tell you the amount of times I have seen Juan Orlando’s face plastered on walls and billboards around Honduras – apparently all paid for with stolen money.

So it will be interesting to see what will happen in November and what the reaction will be – it will most likely be quite a dangerous time (well, more dangerous than usual) – ICYE even thought about not accepting volunteers for the summer in case. But they have so it can’t be that bad, right?! Although it could be a more unstable time, I am excited to be here for such an important time for Honduras – although I don’t think the situation here will get much better soon, a step in the right direction can only help. I just have no idea where that step needs to go.

While me and my host sister were talking about all this she got a phone call from her friend – her cousin had been killed the day before. He was a taxi driver and they don’t know if he had been involved with anything bad but it is widely known that maras (drug gangs) initiate new members by telling them they have to murder someone to prove their dedication so he may have just been wrong time, wrong place. It is just so crazy here that you can be sat at home and then have a friend call you up and tell you a member of their family has been murdered – and that be a relatively normal thing to happen. Let’s hope that one day Honduras can find a way to change…

 

Also, one of my very good friends from my year at the University of Leicester emailed me today to say…

So, I’ve been reading your blog and I have to say this to you, I’m so impressed. I think your parents should be really proud of what they’ve produced, seriously. Your compassion, empathy and love is just amazing and I know you’re cringing now but just had to tell you.

 I absolutely love this girl – she has no idea how much I admire her. She has had so much happen in her life already which could have knocked her down but she is one of the strongest people I know and she always talks so much sense and has an amazing outlook on the world! Love you beautiful!!!

Thank you again everyone who has read my blog so far – I know I have been useless lately, I will post about my adventures in La Ceiba and Utila soon!

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