Guest commentary by Erik Broome
A week ago, I was anxiously waiting for things to happen in Honduras. For the past 13 years I have served as the pharmacist for a motley gathering of do-gooders who make a yearly trek to the impoverished nation. It’s a week we all look forward to (and attempt to prepare for) all year long.
Andy Garrott and I had talked often during the last weeks, as we did before every mission trip, about how this could be the best trip, ever. Our headquarters/base camp/tribute-to-God is the Rosa-Adeline Complex, a sprawling compound with housing for orphans and facilities for the surrounding community, built primarily by pilgrims and funds from Panola County.
It is so happy, secure and peaceful, so much so that a group of women and teenagers from the Methodist Church had gone there the week before we were to arrive. We felt they were as safe in Honduras as they would be here.
There is an incredible amount of work involved in a medical/dental/spiritual mission. In times past, we’ve dispensed 5,000 prescriptions in 4 days, all of which had to be bought, shipped, divided and labeled before-hand. I had hoped the Methodist Youth Group could do the bulk of the dividing and labeling before we arrived on Friday, but that wasn’t going to happen because, as of Saturday, the drugs had still not left my store.
The drugs had not left my store because FedEx had not picked them up because they had not been given the okay to deliver by Honduran Customs because of a mountain of red tape imposed by the Honduran Government. I wasn’t handling the situation too well and had already started chanting my Mission Mantra, “It’s Honduras. Things happen at a slower pace in Honduras, but they eventually happen.”
Sunday evening I got on-line to check my e-mail, hoping the Honduran Government had decided to move at something other than a snail’s pace. My home page at Yahoo was busy lamenting the passing of Michael Jackson, but a few words in tiny, bold print under the heading “World News” grabbed my attention. “Honduras … Military … Coup.”
I clicked my way through the alarming headline (complete with footage of stern-faced, armed soldiers storming the presidential compound) and found the article. The first few lines were just as disturbing. It appeared that the sleeping, ineffective government that needed a month to decide whether or not to accept a shipment of free medicine had roused itself into sudden action.
Upon reading the entire article, my fears of machete-wielding revolutionaries in the streets quickly dissipated. The military coup turned out to be an act of impeachment by the duly-elected Congress of Honduras, with the over-whelming approval of the Honduran people.
The military involvement cited was more akin to having security escort a terminated employee to the door. There had been no up-rising, no revolt. There had been no transfer of power. The same elected representatives were in place, minus the President. I signed-off, thinking this story was just another example of the over-the-top sensationalism that passes as today’s news. I thought our plans would proceed without a hitch.
On my way to bed, I gave myself a little kick-in-the-rear, mentally, for even considering the possibility of unrest in Honduras. I like to think of myself as an optimistic skeptic, slow to move without solid evidence. How could I have allowed myself to be sucked in by some spin-doctor’s misleading headline?
After all, these are Hondurans, not Sandonistas! I know these people. I’ve been to their country. Hondurans take much pride in the fact that no blood of war or large-scale civil violence has ever stained the soil of the Republic of Honduras since its conception. This is no small claim for a Latin American country, especially when considering the bloody track-records of neighboring countries El Salvador and Nicaragua. Hondurans are fiercely peaceful people.
Peace-loving should not cause one to believe these people can be led around by the nose with savvy speech writing. With Hondurans, keeping tabs on politics and politicians is almost an obsession. Don’t ask a Honduran for his opinion of President Zelaya unless you are prepared to listen for awhile. They talk about politics as much as we Americans, but they go one step further and actually vote.
It is fascinating for me to witness the practice of democracy by well-informed, passionate citizens. This is a society that places the freedom to choose for one’s self above all other rights. There is no voter-apathy in the Republic of Honduras. Perhaps the not-so-distant memories of the Spanish yoke or US Fruit Republics makes their right to vote easier to exercise than ours.
Our own Constitution was leaned on heavily by the authors of the Honduran Constitution. One major difference is the one-term limit for the office of President. The reasoning behind this limitation is three-fold. First and most importantly, it deters the likelihood that some home-grown dictator will take root in the position.
Secondly, with no possibility of re-election, the President won’t waste half of his term campaigning. Third and most Honduran-minded, they believe no one should have to suffer over a bad choice for more than one term.
The only threat to democracy in Honduras came from President Zelaya as he attempted to change the Honduran Constitution. The ensuing congressional expulsion of a president who would not act according to the will and/or law of the people is a brilliant display of democracy safe-guarding. Zelaya wasn’t shot in the back of the head for his quest to become President-For-Life. He was simply told to get his sorry, conniving butt out of Dodge and keep it out. If you take away the footage of the soldiers storming the mansion it would be like reading a transcript from C-SPAN. Case closed. Goodnight. The little “crisis” would be resolved by morning.
The next day, Honduras was classified as a Rogue Nation.
The first assault was fired by the Organization of American States, a pseudo-United Nations for Latin America. The OAS esteemed membership is composed of the elected presidents of Central and South America, most of whom are as cliché as comic-book Latino thugs. (It’s so unusual seeing the names “Ortega” and “Chavez” without the familiar titles “Drug Lord” and “Leftist Despot” attatched.) Apparently, the Honorable OAS Panel (whipped into a frenzy by Zelaya’s mentor, the oily and openly anti-American, President-For-Life Hugo Chavez of Venezuela) had convened in the dark of night to universally condemn the expulsion of a leader simply because he has repeatedly skirted or disregarded the laws of the country and is suspected to be draining the national treasury. Does this surprise anyone? Too bad the DEA was not made aware of the summit location.
It sounded like little more than the concerns of tyrants and drug dealers to me. Unfortunately, a statement from OAS had enough authority to catch the attention of a few spin-doctors. They pounced on poor little Honduras like the National Enquirer jumps on Brittney Spears.
I kept waiting for that calm, reassuring voice of reason from a wise US Statesman that always seems to appear minutes before a global catastrophe. Someone needed to step up and cut through all this political posturing and set this band of banana-boat pirates straight about the security of democracy in Honduras and to assure our Honduran allies of our support. Then I remembered who holds the position of Secretary of State.
The Voice of America soon followed, not from an ambassador or senior Secretary, but from President Obama, himself. I was confident that things were about to change. Barak Obama was not my candidate, but he is my president. Unlike many of my Republican brethren, I do not think he is the Antichrist or an Islamic sleeper agent. I believed him to be an intelligent, hard working man who would be a capable leader. I thought a man of his charisma and oratory skills might even improve our world image.
President Obama called for the immediate reinstatement of Zelaya and refused to recognize or communicate with the current, unauthorized(?) government of Honduras. He did not rule out the possibility of deploying US military as part of a UN escort to assure President Zelaya’s safe return. However, the President of the United States, the Defender of Democracy, The embodiment of the values of every American, my president– did threaten to cut off all aid shipments, including food and medical supplies, if our demands weren’t met within 3 days.
When the Leader of the Free World speaks, the world listens. The United Nations, in a rare 192 – 0 vote, declared that the only acceptable outcome to the situation in Honduras is the reversal of the decision rendered by the elected representatives of the people of Honduras and the re-establishment of the criminally corrupt Zelaya as president. Also following President Obama’s lead, the UN has decided to suspend Honduras’ allotment of relief supplies from the World Food Bank. Ironically, the political practice of denying food to the opposition, a favored tactic in places like Sudan and Somalia, has been condemned as inhumane in the past by the United Nations and the United States.
Now I am left in a state of shock and disbelief. I don’t understand how a bit of fluffy reporting about a congressional meeting in this small, proud nation has led to an international showdown. I can’t believe that our people in authority aren’t intelligent enough to see this for what it actually is and not the insurrection that the other Latino Presidents are claiming it to be. I can’t believe that the Land of Liberty and Hope has turned its back on reason and sided with the court of public perception.
Tomorrow is July 4th, America’s birthday. Since our annual visit to Honduras usually falls on the first week in July, I’ve been out of the country during most Independence Day celebrations. People often ask me if it makes me sad to be away from home on the Fourth. I just smile and shake my head. Then I recount something that happened one July Fourth when our team of US and Honduran missionaries were working together in the summer following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
It had been a long, emotionally draining day for all of us. After a quiet meal at the hotel, we North Americans made our way to our rooms and fell into bed. But before we fell asleep, we heard a commotion in the courtyard followed by the sound of some familiar music. I clamored from my room onto the second-level passageway along with the other intrigued Americans. Once we realized what was happening, a reverent silence fell over us.
The boot-legged CD was restarted. Our Honduran companions, each sporting an American flag bandana on their heads, snapped into a three-line formation. As they cleared their throats, a lump formed in mine and my hand instinctively covered my heart. Tears began to roll freely from everyone there as our friends honored us and our country by singing The Star Spangled Banner. We tried to sing along but the words we knew kept sticking in the backs of our mouths. I’ve never been prouder to be an American in my life.
Later that evening, I heard several ragged bursts of firecrackers from different parts of La Esperenza, Honduras. I asked a friend if Hondurans always celebrated the US Independence Day. He smiled in that humble yet Gringo-tolerant manner one often encounters in Honduras. “Yes, but we are not only celebrating the birth of America,” he patiently explained. “We are celebrating the birth of Democracy.”
In a city hidden in the mountains of a country ninety percent of President Obama’s citizenry couldn’t pinpoint on a map of Central America, the descendents of Mayans and Conquistadores gather together to light fireworks and sing songs in a language we don’t recognize to honor July 4, 1776: the day Democracy was born.
Perhaps the oddest development to arise from this situation that is threatening to destroy a people I have come to know and love is my sudden sense of understanding and kinship with First Lady Michelle Obama. I’m referring to a statement she made during the campaign about how it felt to be an American. I do admit I have occasionally been embarrassed by some past action or stance taken in the name of the United States. But I had never been ashamed of being an American. Mrs. Obama, now I know how you feel.