Negev Security, NED, the misuse of culture within the FNRP, & more

On May 14th, waiting for the early early bus to Choloma, I shot several pictures. A friend posed for one (not included here). I got the corner drunk in another. Mostly so the Israeli security wouldn't shoot back.


I looked up their web address but got only this:

but wow, what a difference a week makes:

A fellow guard got off the bus I was waiting to get on, got in the Negev Security Reaction Patrol, and they drove off.

***

On the way to give a talk at the San Pedro Pegagógica last week a hand-painted TOYoTA (a perennial favorite picture, like Honduran female pants mannequins with their superhuman butts) blocked my shot:

...the shot I was actually going for was this one, germane to the illegal U.S. military presolicitation for which contractors visited Palmerola yesterday:
"Honduras is sovereign, Palmerola Out!"

***

On the morning of the 20th I got a taste of Honduran bureaucratic culture, accompanying a friend to pay for a new passport, which is done at a bank, not at the place where they issue the passports. The catch is that the ministry only issues a certain amount of permits per day and so everyone trying to get a passport, along with everyone seeking to go through any other similar official procedure, arrives at the bank where they think they'll have the best chance of beating out all the other people around the municipality (or district, or country- I wasn't clear at which level it was determined) starting at around 8am to form a line for when the bank opens at 9pm. It's one of the few instances in which Hondurans form lines. [This is one of my eternal cultural struggles in this country, as it was in Egypt; line-waiting is so deeply embedded in my habitus that I feel something akin to fury every time I am properly waiting my turn, and one after another person barges ahead of me without the slightest hint of remorse. Quite ridiculous that I can't adapt after all these years, and that I have that reaction even as I am, every time, completely aware that it is not legitimate and even violent in cultural context, but there it is.]

We picked a much smaller (one-room) bank, betting on the fact that so many people would go to the large central bank that the wait would be much shorter, which indeed it was. The problem was that the smaller bank wasn't as efficient with/used to the procedure, so we had to wait for them to call the proper ministry and sort it all out, but it was still a successful strategy. On the way there was another building with loooong long lines, one of elderly women, the other of elderly men. My friend explained that was where they gave the bonos de tercer edad. While waiting outside the small bank, before they opened, I took a picture of the garbage tree outside:

On the way to the passport-issuing ministry, where my friend waited in line from approximately 10am to 5pm to receive their passport (I quickly abandoned ship), this graffiti:
"Go back to the desert, Arab invaders"

***

As it is everywhere, Honduran revolutionary consciousness is evolving, contradictory and incomplete. This is not to say that people are not making serious efforts to reconcile those contradictions. But as barrio-level leaders, campesino groups, indigenous and Black organizations, and feminist and LGBTTI groups have made so clear, classist, urban-centric vanguardist, racist, sexist and homophobic practices within the Resistance run contrary to the goals of democracy and solidarity. Of course, those whose primary goal is taking State power do not necessarily share those most basic horizontal goals, and thus their unchallenged (or incompletely challenged) daily practices don't necessarily represent a contradiction at all. It's important to note here that some struggles, particularly the fights to incorporate awareness of gender- and sexuality-related violence into daily Resistance discourse and practice, have been more successful over the past two years than others. But when vanguardist sectors employ public discourses of participation and democratic inclusivity, all they while in private justifying their hierarchical ambitions using the common claim (among that sector) that stagnant Honduran culture in the "traditional" sectors is not ready for democracy, they are perhaps even more dangerous to the rest of el pueblo than are those who they call golpistas. As an anthropologist, it is particularly frustrating to hear time and again this pseudo-anthropological argument, based on racist and classist assumptions contradicting plenty of empirical evidence, to justify an agenda that excludes such large sectors of the Resistance movement from meaningful participation in the goal of refoundation of the nation.

All of this painful analysis is just the tip of the iceberg. And it really is painful to write, because I see my role as a solidarity worker as being that of exposing the violent practices in Washington enabling and reinforcing violence here, not as an outsider with a right to critique internal processes; that said, I am also an anthropologist, and discourses and practices of culture concern me deeply. As an intellectual concerned with revolutionary praxis, I feel it irresponsible to not analyze such centrally important topics. Perhaps my ambivalence is behind my retreat, here, into some degree of obfuscatory academese.

In any case, this reflection was inspired by the effort of certain Resistance groups to increase awareness of the links between imperialism, golpismo and individual daily practices of consumption. It appeals to the conscientious bourgeois neoliberal consumer in me to see the calls for boycotting fast-food joints in favor of street vendors and baleadas, and boycotting supermarkets in favor of outdoor markets supporting small growers, even as I know that structural problems cannot be effectively addressed by individual practices (at least not on their own).

"Don't drink Pepsi Drink Natural Juices"

I took the above picture on the way to a Radio Uno interview. I balked when the host asked me to be there for two hours, but after an hour and a half I had barely let them get a word in edgewise. It was all over the map- I explained the difference between Zionism and Judaism, defended police officers against classist attacks from the Resistance that ignore the poverty draft (e.g., ""estudiar, aprender, para chepo nunca ser") while condemning the U.S.-supported violence of the institution and the structural forces creating violent individual police habitus-es, discussed the illegal permanent U.S. military occupation, etc. etc. etc. After the interview, I was let out of the office downstairs, which practices careful security ever since the incredibly violent military/police attack last September 15. The keychain was special:

Walking back to my hotel, an oldie but goodie:

In the newspaper (Tiempo) the same day, a Walk Against Hunger organized by the UN World Food Program and a bevy of Honduran golpistas was being promoted. A friend said, reading the headline, "How offensive." "But actually," he continued, "it works. Now my appetite is gone."

***

That night I went to Puerto Cortés to visit a friend. I was interested in looking into NED (National Endowment for Democracy) activity, since NED is quietly but aggressively expanding its activities in Honduras. My friend, Sara, is part of an radical resistance organization that gives workshops on democracy promotion and activism, and told me that an organization called "Ned" (took me a while to relate that to N-E-D) has been actively courting them to provide funding. I'm still not sure if the group that has repeatedly approached Sara is the same NED, although I haven't heard of other organizations with those initials. Anyway it's of serious concern. A few reasons why:

  • The NED, which is comprised of the NDI (National Democratic Institute) and IRI (International Republican Institute), representing the international "democracy promoting" wings of the Democrat and Republican parties, respectively, is a GONGO, funded almost entirely by the U.S. Congress. And sometimes the USG slips in its description of the NED as an "NGO", like in this USAID Report, THE LABOR SECTOR AND U.S. FOREIGN ASSISTANCE GOALS: HONDURAS LABOR SECTOR ASSESSMENT (p.6):

    Findings from this body of work have been presented at a series of public Labor Forums for discussion with USG partners, including representatives from the USG’s National Endowment for Democracy collaborating institutions, international organizations that support labor sector programs, non-governmental organizations and research institutions that work in the labor sector, and development consulting firms that implement labor sector programs.

  • NED's one major official project in Central America is its $440,000 grant to the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, the historically CIA-linked branch of the AFL-CIO.
  • NED was the organization that financed, organized, and sent the bulk of "observers" to legitimize the illegitimate and fraudulent 2009 elections—since the EU, UN, OAS and Carter Center had declared them illegal and thus prevented the legal possibility for the presence of international monitors.
  • NED is actively seeking to finance and otherwise influence groups working on Honduras-related projects in Washington, and its representatives attend and monitor their activities. For example, Julio Rank Wright, listed by the right-wing Americas Quarterly as director for municipal affairs for the Executive National Council of the ARENA political party in El Salvador (and whose father was also a high-ranking member of the Arenas party), showed up at two Honduras events at CEJIL this March: one with Mario Coriolano, a member of the UN Committee Against Torture who worked on the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the violations of human rights in Honduras since the coup d’état on 28 June 2009; and the other with human rights representatives and illegally fired judges in Washington for the CIDH hearings. At each event, Rank Wright—young, pasty-white, and wildly over-confident—presented himself as a representative of the NED. I didn't write down his exact title, thinking I could just google it later, but oddly enough he doesn't appear online as being tied the NED (at least not that I could find); I remember him saying he was something like director of Latin American policy, but since I can't find corroborating evidence, I can't swear to the specifics. At each event, he asked "common sense" questions cleverly designed to subvert the anti-coup, anti-Lobo logics of the presenters, and failed. These included, at the first event:
    • asking Coriolano why there was no mention of the killings of journalists over the past year, alleging that these prove that the violence was coming from "both sides" (Coriolano firmly rejected the "both sides" logic, stating that all the evidence of systematic human rights violations under Micheletti and Lobo pointed to the government as the sole perpetrator; he also noted the Lobo government was illegitimate, and explained that 2010 attacks on journalists were not discussed because the report only covered the Micheletti period)
    • Asking where civilian control over the armed forces was among the Commission's priorities, positing this again as a common sense solution, obfuscating the fact that without anything approaching real democracy, "civilian" is nearly the same euphemism used by the USG when it says "civil society" (i.e., U.S.-financed and/or created NGO sector)—part of the neoliberal discourse reframing the citizen as private, not part of a public system of democratic governance. The civilian control of the military question has been a central post-coup focus of the State Department in its efforts to legitimize the Honduran coup State, as can be seen, for example, in Llorens' February 2010 cable 10TEGUCIGALPA143, "AMBASSADOR AND PRESIDENT LOBO DISCUSS THE NEED TO APPOINT NEW MILITARY HIGH COMMAND." It is also a means to divert potential allies of the Honduran people from the real question at hand: what the hell reason can there possibly be for the continued existence of a U.S.-trained and financed military that completely lacks the power to defend the nation against any external threat (which does not exist in any case) and whose only function has ever been to threaten, disappear, torture and murder Hondurans who are at odds with Honduran government policy, the Honduran oligarchy and U.S. foreign policy, and to carry out coups? Coriolano had a similarly clear answer to this trick question, answering something akin to what I say in the first sentence of this bullet point, and also noting that the real problem is that the military should never be used for internal security, which is its primary function under Lobo.

    ...and in the next event he continued his "common sense" State Department line (this was all in Spanish):

    • "We know that there were many violations in 2009, but the situation of human rights violations in Honduras did not begin with the coup..." [of course, those present nodded vigorously—he's clever] "but in order to understand how Honduras is doing in terms of human rights today, we shouldn't think about the coup, but rather compare the human rights situation of today to that of five years ago." Not realizing, I think, who he was and that this was not naiveté but an intentional trick question, the speakers were less firm than Coriolano had been; still, they were clear. Mery Agurcia of COFADEH answered that by even by his proposed measure, the violations were much greater under Lobo than they had been five years ago, and that they must be viewed in the context of a rupture in democratic governance and a coup-installed government for which human rights violations are a specific means of maintaining power.
    • He then made a complicated analogy that was more of a twisted attempt to demonize Chavez than anything else, arguing that Oscar Álvarez's Anti-Terrorist Law was no different from Chavez's attempts to criminalize certain aspects of "civil society"; in fact, of course (not meant here as a defense of Chavez) there are serious differences—the target of one effort is any member of Honduran society who disagrees with a coup-installed extreme right-wing government, whereas the targets of the other effort are U.S.-funded NGOs and GONGOs (and for our purposes here, specifically the NED, which FOIA documents show to have been deeply involved in the 2002 coup against Chavez) organized with the mission to undermine Chavez's democratically-elected (like it or not) government. For example, see section 8 of Craig Kelley's cable on the matter, 07SANTIAGO983, "A SOUTHERN CONE PERSPECTIVE ON COUNTERING CHAVEZ AND REASSERTING U.S. LEADERSHIP." I don't remember what Rank's answer was to this one...
  • Above and beyond Honduras and Venezuela, the story of NED involvement in undermining national democratic processes is consistently sordid, as evidenced in this compendium of links on AfroCubaWeb.
  • It has recently come to my attention from a confidential but unquestionably reliable source that the NED, in close collaboration with the State Department, is increasing its operations in Tegucigalpa and Honduras overall, has a large budget, and is actively seeking to fund legitimate human rights organizations (just like Freedom House has been attempting to do) and other resistance groups, as well as workshops on "democracy" and "dialogue" (like Sara's).

Perhaps of greater concern is the attitude of certain leaders within the FNRP, like that of a well-known, powerful, long-time communist who himself had a close family member murdered in what was undisputably a political execution tied to resistance activities last year. Sara related to me a conversation she had had with him in which she brought up the danger of CIA infiltration of the movement. According to her, he responded that he knew that the CIA and other USG groups were infiltrating, and that the trick was to take their money, and then do what they wanted with it...

In any case, Puerto Cortés was its usual complex and charming self. My favorite Bicipollos joint was still there:

A man whose legs were not adapted to pedal a normal bicycle had a special bicycle adapted for him, that let him go all over town (I saw him several times):

***

I took more pictures of my favorite water tanks in Choloma on the way back. I thought I had finally gotten close enough for a good shot, but once again I was mistaken. The second shot is for context. It's just such a visually powerful image of what "progress" means in a neoliberal regime, I think. On the one side of the inward-facing high barbed wire fence protecting the maquilas: clean mowed lawns, well organized "modern" factories. On the other side: the creek flowing with the chemical waste from the clean factory, littered with plastic bags of water (which people are force to buy because local water is undrinkable, largely thanks to the industry), rusting public transportation infrastructure, and untended scrub.


At the bus station on my way to Tegucigalpa, an interesting masculine contrast to the mega-butts of female mannequins, emphasized by the choice of undies:

...and a weapons store in the bus terminal, "Satisfying your security and entertainment needs":

***

In Tegucigalpa (Guanacaste, specifically), it was prohibited to dump trash:

There was lots of great new graffiti tags from (I assume) MDR. This one was also bravely resisting spelling norms:

I accompanied my friend to a public clinic to get an injection. It was very crowded, but on first glance seemed to be run quite efficiently, given limited resources and the relentless privatization of healthcare. The nurses were all business, even if the spiderweb-abatement crew seemed to have been laid off: