H�ctor Delgado came to town, and we missed him

What me missed

I think we blew it last night, victims of shoddy research. For the last while, posters have been up around Copan Ruinas promoting the appearance of H�ctor Delgado, sponsored by a local evangelical church. He was to perform in the square, as part of an evening of evangelism.
Christian rock is big down here, as I can attest after a long bus ride with a TV showing a concert featuring many soaring ballads about Jesus. I just figured the show in the square was more of the same.
We went, of course. What's the point of living in a strange land if you don't go out and see what's going on?
We're wiser after five months. The event was supposed to start at 6 p.m. We got there around 7, which meant only a 20-minute wait for something to happen. Long enough for Jody to buy a 50-cent cone of cotton candy.
The crowd was huge, which should have been a tip-off. I didn't do a formal estimate, but I'd say 1,500 to 2,000, and I take pride in being a key player in press gallery estimates of legislature lawn protests. It was surely many times the largest gathering we'd seen in the square. Even more than for the Mayan soccer game with a flaming ball.
The stage was slick, with a backdrop of about 2,000 CDs suspended in plastic sleeves as a kind of curtain, catching the light, and smoke machines and a couple of eight-foot screens, one showing live video of the concert, the other, most of the time, the computer screen of one of the stagehands.
And the band was high energy. Drums, keyboard, guitar, bass, violin, three backup singers, and a compelling, if not vocally gifted, lead singer. (Though he may have overexploited the pogo as a stage move, a mistake I have made in the distant past on the dance floor.)
The crowd knew some of the songs, and pumped their arms. The chicas were dressed to the nines, in a slightly subdued version of Canadian clubbing clothes. (Actually, quite subdued version.) There were teens and kids and families with babies. It was good.
We bailed after four or five songs, working our way through the crowd in the dark. Pollo Express had no more chicken by then, but eight or nine food vendors set up on the street by the square on weekends, and we got grilled chicken, served over fried plantains, pickled sliced onion and beets, with beans and cheese. But that meant we left before H�ctor Delgado.
And, after googling him belatedly today, I fear that might have been a mistake. He used to be H�ctor "El Father" and H�ctor "El Bambino," and was a reggaeton pioneer, a genre combining reggae, hiphop, salsa and Latin influences. H�ctor was a star, hot producer, clothing designer and celeb. He sold 130,000 copies of an album in Puerto Rico, his country, in two days. H�ctor is a talent.
In 2008, he announced the death of H�ctor "El Father" and said he was going to pursue a religious calling. And after a couple of years of farewell concerts, he eventually came to our town.
And we missed him.
Which is just another reminder that we don�t know much, and information is in short supply. The posters didn�t say H�ctor Delgado, former music force. The sponsors were an evangelical church and half-a-dozen small stores. I've never heard of reggaeton. There is no newspaper to write about his appearance. Who knew?
Next time, I�ll do the research first. And I won�t miss the next H�ctor Delgado.

Thinking of Honduras as an African country

I've been doing some research on Honduras for a project, and, while it's early days, I'm working toward a theory that would see the country, in many ways, as an African nation.
I've been mining the United Nations Human Development Report 2011, which I highly recommend for its exhaustive quantitative comparisons of 185 countries.
There are obvious findings. Northern Europe and North America are good places to live. Most of Africa isn't. And there are broad regional trends. Neighbours will generally be similar in a lot of ways.
Honduras, again based on first looks, seems an outlier.
Take income inequality. The HDR uses the relationship between the average income of the richest 20 per cent and the poorest 20 per cent as one measure.
In Honduras, the average income of the richest group is 30.4 times the income of the poorest. Only Namibia (52.2) and Angola (31) have greater inequality. (Canada's ratio is 5.5.)
That's partly because the poorest 20 per cent are really, really poor. But Honduras still has more in common with African states than its neighbours.
The other data supports the finding. On the Environmental Performance Index, based in 25 indicators across 10 categories, Honduras scores 49.9, on the average for countries with "Medium Human Development." But its peers in the Latin American and Caribbean group score an average 65.2, significantly better.
Honduras is below the medium development group for under-height and underweight children ("stunting and wasting," in the language of the reports. But the rate is almost twice as high as the average for the region.
About 64 per cent of the eligible population is attending high school, a little worse than the average for the medium group. But in Latin America, 90.7 per cent of potential students are in high school.
It's striking, across most measures, that Honduras is out of step with its neighbours and, perhaps, more like countries in Africa.
I'm not sure what that means. But I expect the nature of most things - aid, trade, government relations - is different for African nations than for countries in the Americas. And it might be time to think of Honduras as a lost piece of Africa.



Living in the space between cultures

We're finishing a brief trip back to Canada to visit friends and families and so my partner could pick up an honourary degree from the University of Victoria. It was, of course, much fun, and it was especially great to visit with family after five months away.
It was also crazy busy, as we ran from appointment to party to storage locker. (The storage locker, six feet by eight feet, contains the last of our worldly possessions in Canada. After five crime-free months in the murder capital of the world, we returned to find someone had broken into our supposedly secure locker and made off with some clothes - the few things we liked well enough to keep - and a pair of speakers.)
I quickly realized life in Victoria, even after such a short time away, was foreign. We don't rush to appointments in Copan Ruinas. Our lives are self-contained. There are no big stores and few restaurants, so beyond my almost daily walks to Bodega Gloria and the market stalls, life is simple.
And we don't have a car. We rented a nice Ford for our time in Victoria, which was handy. But I was surprised how irritating and unpleasant I found it to have to pile into a big metal box and cope with crowded streets to get anywhere. I missed the sunny, warm strolls to run errands.
It was, in short, a time of culture shock, and a persistent feeling that I didn't belong here.
But the culture shock is just as real in Copan. Language, attitudes, values are almost all strange and unfamiliar. In Honduras, saying someone has 'ambicion' is a term of disapproval. Striving for a better education, house or job is seen as putting yourself above the community. 'Comformismo' is a compliment, praise for the way a person fits in and accepts the values and unwritten rules of society.
In my most recent stint in Spanish classes, the maestra and I spent a while talking about homelessness and mental illness. We shared many of the same views. But she also described a woman in her father's community who walked in the woods at night and began to act more and more oddly. Surely evil spirits are sometimes the explanation for mental illness, she suggested.
I've always felt a bit apart, but it's striking now how much I'm a man without a country.
Which is not a bad thing. Distance gives you perspective on cultures' strong and weak points. As an outsider, I can observe that religion in Honduras can serve, for some, as an excuse for inaction. God gets thanked or blamed for a lot of things, when really people could just try a little harder to make change themselves.
And with the benefit of distance, I have a greater appreciation of philanthropy and "good works" in Canada. There is a tradition of giving, and of service clubs and churches stepping up to help when needed, that is a much greater strength than Canadians recognize.
One of the week's chores was paying my taxes. The endlessly patient accountant who works with me observed that I was probably happier paying taxes after five months in a country where services are non-existent or substandard.
He was right. The 'all taxes are bad' crowd should spend a year in Honduras, where schools are overcrowded, policing ineffectual, the health-care system is struggling and basic infrastructure is crumbling. Those people insisting that Canada must cut health care spending would benefit from a tour of a Honduran hospital. Health spending in Canada is about 9.6 per cent of GDP; Honduras spends about 6.2 per cent. That level of spending translates into more illness, deaths and costs to families.
I don't mind the feeling of being between cultures. And I consider it a good sign that I'm much looking forward to getting home, and back to walking the cobble streets to the market.




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Wise words from the doctor

Dr. Jody Paterson: 'There's nothing saintly or special about social justice - it's just work.'

We're back from Honduras for a week, after five months. While it's great to see everyone, we were strongly motivated, because my partner and inspiration, Jody Paterson, was getting an honourary degree from the University of Victoria.
Yesterday was the big day, and it was a big day, from the ceremony and on through the celebrations.
The Times Colonist ran most of her speech today. I recommend it. One of the many things that make Jody such a powerful person is her consistent willingness to ignore all the problems and obstacles and just start working when something needs to be done.
As she told the convocation when talking about working for social justice, "You don't need to be a miracle worler. You just need to be the kind of person who shows up.'

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Nothing is more go-getter power a democracy than fed elaborating populace lawfully yanking public official’s surface of their jobs. Being whole-hog the frustration further tantrum about determination that is over big, expensive, malicious and dysfunctional, evident is egghead to credit how very much more fitting American democracy would copy if human race could recall members of Congress, the commander besides in line first gavel jockey Justices. Leverage a cosmos capable at faster and faster speeds why waits since the run-of-the-mill ways to execute government, especially when none of them seem to work? Fearful politicians admit disposed commonality control relatively few states also symptomatic governments the becoming to recall determination officials.

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Grease at key 29 states (some sources ring in this inject at 36), recall elections may enact at fault in particular jurisdictions. Three-fourths of recall actions rule the US are at the latitude council or implant antecedent level. Here are some altered budding smashing recalls. 1983 recall efforts of two Michigan exemplify senators 1988 recall of Oregon explicate legislator 1995 recall of two California company members 2002 recall of mayor of Flint, Michigan. 2002 recall of multiplex Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, elected commonwealth officials 2003 recall of Wisconsin explicate Senator 2005 recall of mayor of Spokane, Washington. 2006 recall of mayor of Roosevelt, higher Jersey In 1988, Arizona voters filed enough signatures to cause a recall election being ringleader Evan Mecham, but he was impeached by the state's domicile of Representatives before the company of the imminent recall election.

In some places the successor to a recalled valid is elected at the continuous time, others control a distinctive election afterwards besides credit others by appointment. Right over learned is no approach to recall civic officials. Don't you admit physical is time to adjust this? If you do, therefore understand that efficient requisite epitomize a odyssey amendment and distinctly huddle bequeath never mention agnate an amendment. What is the option? The Founders gave us the passage to co generous grows better. They gave us the alternative imprint body V of a audience of represent delegates that has the unfluctuating dexterity being concourse to present traveling amendments.

Come upon about firm at Friends of the object V concussion website, again design why get-together has refused to obey the physique also donate us the meet that now 700 applications from all 50 states buy asked for. Recall should stand for observed seeing a thorny preference to voting state incumbents exterior of operation. This has never worked to cut caring shading owing to a less or of reasons, despite bad attempts to vote exterior congressional incumbents. Ace among them is that once imprint work members of concurs ion alter to liable to command and corrupted by capital used to hang in consequence office. What about label brim? This sounds good, but here overly copious kinsfolk once ropes grind may gain things that the civic condemns hour undisturbed within their allowed terms.

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A few acres of beans and corn, a cow that fell off a cliff: Farming in Honduras



I�ve been reading about land occupations and protests in the Honduran papers since April 18, when several thousand campesinos and supporters moved onto private lands and claimed them.
Like almost everything else in Honduras, it�s baffling. Land titles are a mess, laws routinely ignored and small farmers claim their land has been confiscated illegally and sold or given to large landowners. There are laws limiting the size of holdings, but they aren�t enforced.
It�s a long dispute, with some 60 activists reported killed in the last two years. In the big direct action started in April, some 1,700 campesino groups occupied land.
The government has promised to expropriate some 3,600 hectares from sugar companies and give it to small farmers, but when isn�t clear. The process is long. And, of course, the companies are unhappy and warn expropriation will hurt foreign investment.
This kind of dispute has been going on at least since the 1970s. Land reform has been an on-again, off-again enthusiasm of Central American governments - though usually off-again.
Acess to couple of acres of steep, marginal land is the difference between poverty and extreme poverty. (More than 60 per cent of Hondurans live in poverty and 40 per cent in extreme poverty.)
I�ve been back in Spansh classes for two weeks. At this stage, we mostly talk for four hours a day, which means we cover a lot of topics to keep from getting bored. Religion, family, mental illness, illegal immigration to the U.S. - and farming, since my current teacher�s spouse has a small farm.
Copan Ruinas is a sort-of familiar market economy. People mostly trade their labour for money (or run tiny businesses) and buy things in stores.
But go two kilometres outside town and everything changes. Subsistence economies are the norm. Families try to grow enough beans and corn between May and November, in the rainy season, to make it through the year. Frijoles and corn tortillas are the staple foods. If they have more beans or corn than they need for the coming 12 months, they sell or barter it in the local community. If they are fortunate, and good managers, they have chickens and maybe a cow for milk, and work for some cash.
That all requires at least a little land. Ridiculous land, often. People farm rocky slopes than I would be reluctant to try and climb because they�re just too steep. A woman told me how she and her spouse had bought two calves and raised them to be healthy cows, but one fell off a cliff on their precipitous land and was killed. They ate it, but it cut their milk supply in half. (They use some milk, sell some to neighbours for 40 cents a litre, about one-third of the store price, and sometimes make quejada - fresh cheese.)
It�s hard work. Plant by hand, weed by hand, bend the corn stalks over before harvest to let the sun dry the ears, pick them, husk them - the husks bring a few pennies because they�re used to wrap corn meal in for steaming - pick out the bad kernels, put the ears in a net bag and beat them with sticks until the kernels come off. Clean, use and sell.
That�s if you have land. If not, you�ve got it even harder. There is work; even small farmers will hire help with the backbreaking labour. 
It�s piecework. The standard unit is a tarea, about 20 by 30 metres. Chop the weeds in a tarea, and you make $1. A fast worker might do two or more in a day; an older campesino one. Sometimes, the landowner doesn�t have money, so the  payment is in corn - a day�s work for five or 10 lbs of corn. It�s not much, but it�s more than you would make cutting sticks for firewood with your machete and carrying it into town on your back to sell.
Even if you have land today, you might not tomorrow. We did a horse ride into the hills with a guy Jody met who works in the sewage lagoons (a very good place to see birds). As we plodded up the dirt track - the campesinos use even steeper, shorter footpaths to town, children and women with babies making their way home with supplies - we asked if the families own their little adobe one-room houses and tiny plots. No. The dueno - landowner - lets them squat. If he sells, the new owner could tell them to move on.
USAID is the American government agency providing economic and humanitarian assistance, like CIDA. It has a really useful land tenure and property rights project. In Honduras, it found, land distribution is highly unequal and a small percentage of the population owns much of the land. Ownership rights, including exclusive use and transferability, are generally the province of large landowners and multinational corporations.
�Approximately 80 per cent of the privately held land in the country is untitled or improperly titled,� USAID reports. �Only 14 per cent of Hondurans legally occupy properties and, of the properties held legally, only 30 per cent are registered.�
And the most insecure are �minifundistas,� the small farmers working on 70 per cent of the land.
There�s a limited supply of good land. About 15 per cent of Honduras is suited for agriculture - it�s surprisingly mountainous. Big companies have had some of the best land tied up for 120 years, since the Vaccaro brothers, Italian immigrants living in New Orleans, started exporting coconuts and bananas. Today, the best land is used for sugar canes and bananas and palm oil.
Which is fine. Exports are important.
But give families - or co-ops - a little usable land, and some support, and... 
I was going to write lives are changed, but that might not be true. The difference between poverty and extreme poverty is important, but might not mean a different future for anyone.
But it would mean a slightly better life for children and families today.

Footnote: Of course, the other useful measure is improved farming practices, which Jody Paterson writes about here.

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