Learning Spanish, and about Honduras, through the daily news

UPDATE: Canada made La Prensa today, with a story that we're offering 200 two-year jobs in the meat-packing industry to Hondurans, who can apply over the next week. They pay $1,912 a month, and if Honduran employees' conduct is good, they can apply to have their families join you after a year.
That's a lot of money by Honduran standards, and with an ultrafrugal lifestyle in Canada would allow regular cheques to be sent back home.
Which is hugely important. In 2010, 19 per cent of Honduras' GDP was based on money sent back from people working, legally or illegally, in other countries.
It could also be argued that the Canadian companies are using the program to avoid paying fair wages to Canadian workers, but that's another debate.

I�ve been reading the newspapers here to improve my Spanish, and learn something about the country.
It�s slow work, but getting easier. I can appreciate the burden of illiteracy, as I consult the Spanish-English dictionary to pry open the sense of some new word, most of which have a confusing welter of possible meanings.

The task is made harder by the maddeningly complex writing style. One sports story had an 83-word lead, a tumble of subordinate clauses and asides ultimately wandering to some conclusion I never quite got.

As for understanding the country, I�m not sure how that�s coming. Today�s El Tiempo - one of three dailies available in Copan Ruinas, if you count El Diez, an all-sports newspaper - featured the usual crime stories. Two young men, 17 and 20, found in a construction site in San Pedro Sula, hands tied behind their back and shot in the head. Two other unidentified young men found apparently strangled and wrapped in sheets and dumped on another road in that city. There�s been a lot of that going around, the story noted, recounting five other bodies found dumped in various wrappings.

It was a typical day. San Pedro Sula has a dismal record for crime, with some 1,143 murders last year, about three a day. It has 1.2 million people, so if Vancouver had the same murder rate there would be about six new dead bodies every day. In Victoria, a daily murder.

La Prensa, the other paper we get, regularly runs a helpful two-page infographic map of San Pedro Sula, with little pictographic symbols showing where different crimes were committed in the previous few days. A kind of chalk outline drawing for murders, a handgun for armed robberies, a sedan for carjackings and so on. I�ll write about the theories of why the country San Pedro Sula has become so violent in a future post.

The big news was a cabinet shuffle. The president, Porfiro Lobo, fired the education minister, the religion and culture minister, the vice-minister of agriculture and the head of the state energy agency. The finance minister and a couple of others were fired or quit in the last couple of weeks.

It�s all a bit familiar. The education minister got the chop because he hasn�t been able to get a handle on the job. El Tiempo noted that after two years he still couldn�t say how many teachers were actually employed by the government. More significantly, the teachers� union and government have been bickering for years, and parents are sick and tired of it. Last year, there were supposed to be 200 educational days, but there were actually about 80 due to protests and job action and study days and the like.

The energy corporation head was fired because he signed a long-term deal to buy electricity from an American company that looks suspicious. (Kind of a southern version of BC Rail.) Similarly, the agriculture guy was whacked because he signed a deal letting a couple of big shipments of rice into the country without the normal duty, irking the industry which relies on the tariff protection. Rice imports are a longstanding issue here, and critical in a country where cheap beans, corn and rice are all that keep many people from starvation.

And the religion minister was fired because he wasn�t considered sufficiently loyal to the president, as he failed to fight back when the Supreme Court ruled a recent law giving status, sort of, to evangelical churches was unconstitutional. The status only applied to churches recognized by a council, violating constitutional rights to religious freedom.

It�s puzzling. It seems power is centered with the president, but the firings suggest ministers have a lot of autonomy. Honduras has a republican system, with powers carved up between congress and the president. Practically, it�s a two-party state without much to chose between the Liberal and National parties.

Meanwhile, Lobo gave a speech and argued the Supreme Court has too much power and there should be a remedy when they get it wrong on the law, which sounds ominous to an outsider.

The best quote in the paper today came from the German ambassador, speaking at conference at the end of a visit by German justice officials.

It�s wrong to call the country a failed state, he said.

�I don�t believe Honduras is a failed state,� he said. �It�s a state that functions perfectly, in serving the interests of some.�

Footnotes: At one time, I might have felt a little smug about some of the governance issues here. But since the governing party in Canada was apparently helped to victory by systemic electoral fraud, subverting democracy, it�s hard to claim we have anything to teach others.

And the New York Times looked at crime in Honduras on Saturday. The piece is here.


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