What I Saw, Felt and Discovered in a Three-Week Hunger Strike
Honduras is experiencing a critical moment in its political history thanks to a hunger strike in April by a group of young public prosecutors demanding that the Prosecutor General’s Office initiate proceedings against the most notorious of the unpunished corruption cases. What first appeared an isolated, idealistic and naïve gesture became a massive strike that awakened national awareness and is currently mobilizing society. Our correspondent took part. This is his experience and his analysis.
The Honduran Prosecutor General’s Office, or Public Ministry, is an institution created in 1993. Its head is appointed by the National Congress. Both the first and attorneys to fill this post maintained some autonomy from the country’s political and economic groups. The young prosecutors (29-35 years old) who instigated a hunger strike that has revitalized the political face of Honduras are from that school.
Their protests started with the 2004 election as prosecutor general of Ovidio Navarro, a disreputable lawyer who had looked after the properties, assets and ill-gotten gains of former President Rafael Leonardo Callejas, well known for numerous corruption cases. Navarro’s job was to clean up Callejas’ reputation as well as his files. Navarro was pressured into resigning, but the National Congress bent the laws in order to elect two congressional representatives to replace him and his assistant. Leonidas Rosa Bautista, the new prosecutor general, runs the most important legal practice in Honduras; he is the personal lawyer and legal representative of corrupt former President Carlos Flores and also the lawyer of the sweatshop businessmen. His appointed assistant is Omar Cerna. When the young prosecutors criticized Rosa Bautista’s corruption-sullied institutional procedures, he tried to neutralize them, relocating some and attempting to “train” others in how to manipulate murky agreements themselves, for a possible career in politics. Incensed and humiliated by the corruption and abuse, four of the prosecutors proposed a hunger strike in early April of this year to demand that the dozens of cases documenting acts of corruption by the country’s untouchable politicians and businessmen gathering dust in the ministry be reviewed. It was the first time the struggle against corruption would be taken up in Honduras. Most people saw it as an institutional battle and as such, having nothing to do with them. The strike changed all that. This is the story of that feat and of my participation in it.
“Look what you can do”When I joined the hunger strike on April 24, it never crossed my mind that I would spend 21 days at the “Bottom of the National Congress” with no food except water and six tablespoonfuls of honey a day. Nor did I imagine at the outset that I would discover and experience such a store of cynicism and insensitivity by the Honduran political class during that entire sizing-up of forces between two opposing sides.
When I first contemplated supporting the hunger strike, I was on a hill in Tablón, a community in western Honduras, giving a seminar-workshop to some 80 people, all indigenous Lencas living in the area. The topic was something like Creating Citizenship, based on the struggle to defend water and natural resources. During the afternoon break on Thursday, April 10, I answered a call on my mobile phone from Sandra Maribel Sánchez, a reporter and friend of mine. “The prosecutors have been on their hunger strike for four days and nobody’s paying any attention to them. See what you can do. And remember that these guys aren’t asking for a pay rise or any other labor demands. They’re fighting against all those corrupt people whom no one dares touch, and that’s not just a struggle for some prosecutors. It should be for all honorable people.”
I went back to talking about corruption, the absence of the state and the hereditary greed of the country’s politicians, but Sandra Maribel had already pricked the depths of my heart. During the four-hour drive from the municipality of Yamaranguila back to El Progreso I silently watched the countryside, responding to the remarks of Rita Santamaría and Alicia Reyes, my work team, in monosyllables. The prick drove deeper and deeper.
The striking prosecutors’ one demand was very concrete: that the Public Ministry’s files linking high-up political and business figures to notorious corruption cases should be re-examined. Not surprisingly, it upset the country’s wealthy and untouchables no end.
I was assailed by doubts, which were nothing more than arguments to justify my fear, indecisiveness and finally, lack of freedom. “If we get involved, what will the bishops and the other Jesuits say? A few will be supportive, but others will come out with their usual cold skepticism, still others will openly oppose it and a good few will scoff...
“No, we mustn’t support it, we have more to lose than to gain,” I concluded during those hours on the road.
In the background were the murmurings of my companions… some comment about the countryside, the nation’s troubles or the lateness of the rains. Another backdrop to my contemplations was the music of Luis Eduardo Aute on the car radio. Suddenly, the words of an old song written by this remarkable singer-songwriter came on, as if to help me see off my doubts. “Freedom / freedom / humanity’s right / it’s easier to find roses in the sea.” I felt myself send
my first timid conclusions to hell. The prosecutors, I told myself, have spent five days in a hunger strike that many others of us in the Church should have undertaken long ago.
Two by two our The following day, Saturday, April 12, I was part of a small team in an education workshop on national reality with a group of people from the rural areas north of El Progreso. While I hadn’t yet made up my mind, in my heart things were very clear. During the afternoon break I broached the subject aloud for the first time. I was with Víctor Díaz and Saúl Àvila, two social promoters from the Reflection, Investigation and Communication Team (ERIC), part of the Jesuit social apostolate I’m responsible for, together with Radio Progreso.
Me: “The prosecutors have been on their hunger strike for six days now. What should we do?” Victor: “ERIC can’t just stop at making comments. We should be with them.” Me: “Admirable; that’s exactly what I think.” Saúl: “What do you think? Shall we go? “What do you say, Victor?” Victor: “Let’s go then, just let me see how the family is, sort out a few other details and we’ll go.”
That’s how our participation in the strike started.
On Monday, April 14, Victor and Saúl joined the hunger strike in representation of ERIC. They did it for three days as part of a relay plan. If after three days the prosecutors’ demands hadn’t been met, they would be relieved by two other ERIC members. Although some people in ERIC were surprised by this unexpected and barely discussed decision—as are almost all truly vital decisions—nobody hesitated in offering to take part.
The three days came to an end and the authorities’ silence in response to the prosecutors’ strike was resounding. Only Sandra Maribel’s news items on her radio program in Tegucigalpa, and we on Radio Progreso were reporting on the subject. The other media were either completely silent or joked about it. “The diet clinic,” the strike began to be dubbed in some of the major media.
On Thursday, April 17, Elvin Hernández and Héctor Flores lay down on the mattresses that had been occupied by Víctor and Saúl. On Sunday, the relay continued with Modesto Molina and Martha Dubón. The prosecutors had now gone 13 days without eating, and the state authorities remained unmoved by their demands.
“I’ll be back with a thousand people”Two days later I visited the strikers for the first time at the “Bottom of the National Congress.” There were seven prosecutors, the two ERIC members and Mariana Díaz, a young citizen who had arrived one night that week with her mattress under her arm. With no fanfare or fuss, she unrolled her mattress on the freezing floor of the legislative building and joined the young prosecutors’ fight.
“I’ve come here,” I told them, almost without looking at their faces, “to ask you what else we can do to support you.” Directly in front of me were the four prosecutors who started the strike: Víctor Fernández, Jari Dixon, Luis Javier Santos and Soraya Morales. “Look Father,” answered Jari, vice president of the Prosecutors’ Association against Corruption, “you’re already supporting us, but ask more people to come, because a lot of people turn up to slap us on the back during the day but when night falls, we look like ghosts, this big building gets bigger and we’re all alone. Lately, as it’s been raining, even our heartbeats sound like the crying of a soul in torment. We’ve passed the moment for people telling us they’re behind us. Now we’re at the point of needing real support.”
Those words smote my heart. And as with other decisions I’ve made that have saved my life even though taking them I’ve felt I’m falling into a huge abyss, I assured them: “In three days I’ll be back to visit you again, but I’ll come with a thousand people.” And that’s what happened. On Tuesday, April 22, exactly three days later, I was once again at the Bottom of the Congress, this time with a thousand people. They had come from their communities in ten buses, traveling 250 kilometers from Sula Valley to the capital. That day Rita Valdez and Gershon Recinos were representing ERIC, but almost all the rest of us who work in ERIC and Radio Progreso went marching through the streets of the capital, expressing our solidarity with the prosecutors.
“I’m joining the strike”Our huge presence filled the prosecutors with enthusiasm. At this point they’d gone 15 days without a bite to eat. Yet in this country of corrupt politicians and public officials it was as if nothing were happening. They had already spread the rumor that the prosecutors were of course eating at night when nobody could see them and were the spearhead of a plot organized by the group close to the executive branch to create instability and thus justify President Manuel Zelaya’s intervention. He in turn would use the occasion to break the constitutional order, suppress the National Congress and install a Constituent Assembly, which would extend his presidential term.
According to this rumor, the well-orchestrated plot had the full support of Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega. The powers on the other side of the country’s borders were using the prosecutors; their hunger strike obeyed international forces.
That day, words of solidarity poured out of the thousand people milling around the Bottom of the Congress. But later in the evening, I thought to myself, the people will have to go home and these guys will be all alone again. After the euphoria, the night will be even darker and the prosecutors will once again be ghosts... So, without having foreseen it, without asking permission from the Provincial or my companions from the community or my colleagues at the Radio and ERIC, I got up on the improvised speakers’ platform and said: “I’m here to tell you that as of the day after tomorrow, Thursday, April 24, I’m joining this hunger strike. My decision is to stay indefinitely.”
“Go with God, my son”I returned to El Progreso and finished up the tasks that would need doing. I thought the hunger strike wouldn’t last three to five days more at the most. My colleagues from the radio met the evening before I left to tell me: “You’re going in the name of everyone from the radio.” We made a circle and one by one those young people—none of them was more than 30—gave me a hug to send me off to the strike; I was going in their name. The members of ERIC’s Executive Council told me to go in peace; they would take care of everything much more enthusiastically, knowing that I, their director, was representing them.
That only left saying goodbye to my mother, blind and with 88 years behind her. “Mother, I’ve decided to join the hunger strike the prosecutors in Tegucigalpa are on, because their fight against corruption and for true justice is the same as the struggle we have here, which gives sense to ERIC and the Radio.” Her trembling hands reached out for me, touching me as if they were her eyes, until they came together around my head: “Go with God, my son, go and don’t hold back, you must go and fulfill your mission.”
Extra, Extra! A priest in the strike!Tirza Flores, a sentencing judge from San Pedro Sula, decided to join me on the strike, so we drove to the capital together. On our way, Sandra Maribel Sánchez went on air with the news: in a few hours a priest and a judge will be joining the hunger strike together with the coordinator of a feminist movement.
By 9 that morning Gilda Rivera, coordinator of the Women’s Rights Center, Tirza Flores, from the Association of Judges for Democracy, and I were at the Bottom of the Congress. The live press conference was ready. Without hesitation or mercy, the reporters threw the big question at me: What does the cardinal have to say about your decision? As I repeated afterwards in all the interviews, I answered: “His Eminence the Cardinal has shown his repudiation of corruption. He has organized wonderful marches against it. My decision to take part in the hunger strike is the best way of remaining true to the Cardinal’s deepest wishes that Honduras might be free of corruption and especially of the corrupt who occupy the highest posts in public administration and run political parties and the large private businesses.”
Reverend Evelio Reyes arrivesThat same day I found myself face to face with the pastor from the Abundant Life evangelical church, Evelio Reyes, a well-dressed man with a confident bearing, clear voice and firm words. We grasped each other in a hug. For the last five days he had put all his church’s not inconsiderable resources—thanks to the tithes of a large congregation of the capital’s middle and upper classes—at the service of the prosecutors’ strike. He had pitched a field tent by the side of the strikers with radios, speakers, doctors, medicines and prayers. It surprised me that a church I had always categorized as “money-grubbing,” with empty zeal and superficial proposals, should be there with its main pastor in the lead to serve a cause that by this point had irritated the legislators, the main leaders of the political class, especially the prosecutor general, and the sacrosanct leadership of Cardinal Rodríguez.
With a well-organized speech, Reverend Reyes arrived at the Bottom of the Congress looking very elegant in a suit and tie. He hugged each of the strikers and if a reporter was nearby, the hugs were longer and stronger. His preaching echoed his slogan: “For a Honduras with honor, steadfast and onwards.” As the strike unfolded, Reverend Evelio Reyes—”the Doctor” as his pastor colleagues call him—became a voice of authority for the movement. And it was at him that the spokesmen of the corrupt political class ended up aiming their barbs. Yes, of course, he went home in the morning and came back in another impeccable suit.
“Get rid of those elegant suits”The more accurately the politicians and the media chorusing them aimed their barbs against Evelio Reyes, the more radical the words coming out of his mouth. On Monday, May 5, the walls of the buildings along the capital’s main thoroughfares appeared plastered with elegant posters of the pastor’s photo, announcing his presidential candidacy. “The chosen one,” they read. So that’s how he was attacking the political classes: he was including the prosecutors’ struggle in the same shabby political race of the corrupt to wrest away its force and credibility.
I kept my doubts to myself, unexpressed. The pastor and his entire church were bending over backwards for the prosecutors. Every day a doctor from the church checked our vital signs and looked after us tenderly. On Sunday, May 4, the day before the posters appeared, the pastor announced he was joining the strike himself. He spent a whole week in his tent together with those of us who were already there. He suspended his participation the following Sunday after fainting during his third sermon.
The day the posters appeared, he gave me a morning hug just as he did every day, but this time I said to him, half in jest and half seriously: “Evelio, sir, just one thing is missing to make you one of us. Get rid of those elegant and expensive suits. That way you’ll stop looking like one of the legislative representatives who you so rightly criticize. We’ll be able to feel your arms like a brother’s.
The pastor hung his head and didn’t answer me. Two hours later he was back. “Here I am, father,” he said to me, “and I thank you for your advice. I don’t want to look like a legislator any more.” From that day until we ended the hunger strike, I never saw him in a suit again. He was so unaccustomed to wearing the street clothes of the common man, his change was slow to come. By the end he looked like a lost sailor among the hills of Tegucigalpa.
“You’ll represent us”As the days went by the issue had begun heat up. The striking prosecutors radicalized their position and appointed a commission to represent them in the negotiations. April ended with two specific demands rather than only one: the re-examination of the corruption cases and the dismissal of the prosecutor general and his assistant.
The negotiating commission contained representatives of the Catholic and Evangelical churches, human rights organizations, the grassroots movement, nongovernmental organizations and the striking prosecutors themselves. When I joined the strike the prosecutors asked me to be part of the commission. “There’s nobody for me to represent,” I told them, “the representatives of the different sectors are already there.” Víctor Fernández, the president of the Prosecutors’ Association, responded, “You’ll represent us, the strikers, directly.”
I accepted on the condition that I would attend all meetings except for the negotiating sessions with the commission representing the National Congress. “It won’t help you to have me opposite the National Congress president. He’s from my town and it’s not exactly friendship that unites us,” I explained.
Dreaming of foodThere were meetings every single day; lots of meetings. But when hunger gnaws, meetings are a nuisance and a bother. And hunger caused tempers to be lost very easily.
The hunger one feels on a hunger strike is enormous! And you feel it all the more with the media constantly saying the strikers are lying and bringing you pizzas and chocolate at night. How the hunger gnaws when you hear these lies. And the reporters say them with such assurance that you begin to wonder: “Is it true that we don’t eat? At night when you’re dreaming about food, is it really because someone’s feeding you?”
A religious celibate is used to having erotic dreams at night. That’s how we compensate for the lack of affection and shared passions. One dreams that one loves and is loved. In a hunger strike, one dreams of food.
One night I dreamt I was looking at a stack of tortillas, an enormous stack. Suddenly the tortilla on top started slowly slipping down, so I jumped to catch it in the air. At that moment I woke up, feeling the agony of hunger in my stomach.
Another night, tired after talking with Gerardo Chévez, a young reporter from Radio Progreso who was covering the news directly on site, I went to the tent and laid down on the mattress. I’d been fasting for seven days. That night I dreamt I was in the kitchen in my mother’s house. In the dream she had excellent sight and walked easily. She was telling me that she had to prepare me food for the seven-day trip I was about to take. My mother was hard boiling eggs, cooking sausages and frying three beautiful fish.
Suddenly she said: “Look, son, watch out for Gerardo, because I saw him put a fish in his back pocket.” Very annoyed, I replied, “That’s what I don’t like about Gerardo, because one doesn’t mess around when it comes to food.” That’s how the nights passed, then back to fasting in the morning: water to avoid getting dehydrated and the little spoonfuls of honey. Every day.
In one of the conversations about dreams with the prosecutors, Jari Dixon, V-P of the Prosecutors’ Association, told us that one night he dreamt he was in an elegant restaurant, with his knife and fork ready. When the waiter appeared, Jari ordered a whole roast chicken. The waiter returned with an enormous pot, telling him: “There’s no more chicken.” He’d brought him a pot full of water and honey.
“What constitutes a corrupt person?”The hunger strike represented a real battlefield, a sizing up of forces and a passionate ideological and political struggle. No one in Honduras could get away from its meaning: not friends or enemies, Catholics or Evangelicals, atheists or agnostics, well-heeled people or street people, men or women, intellectuals by trade or unread people; third age or first age.
One day, somewhere around day 30 of the strike for the prosecutors and day 13 for me, a group of children arrived with their teacher. They came to sing to us. As I watched them, I became convinced they were there not only because the teacher had brought them but also because in their hearts they felt something akin to what we old people call solidarity. For them, solidarity was songs and shy smiles.
Another day a 9–year-old boy came over. He opened the flap of the tent where I was sleeping and gave it to me straight: “I’ve been taught that a corrupt person is one who’s dirty, but I saw that man on television who you say is corrupt and he looked real clean to me. Explain to me then, father, what a corrupt person is.” Though he caught me by surprise, I tried
to explain: “Corruption is a stain that goes deeper than clothes and the body. It shows in the conscience and the heart. Someone can look very dirty on the outside, for example a farmer who’s been working in the fields or a lady who sells coal. Their clothes and their bodies look dirty on the outside, but probably their hearts and their consciences are clean, because they’re full of generosity, honor and love for their work and other people. A man like the prosecutor general is well dressed, with a clean suit and polished shoes, but inside he carries a lot of robberies and many unfair decisions against the people, which make his heart and conscience very dirty.”
The bowels of the National CongressThe National Congress building is constructed in such a way that the floor where the plenary sessions are held has an enormous corridor that connects with the different floors where the representatives have their offices. The building also connects to another building where the Portrait Gallery is located, so named because of the paintings on its walls: portraits of all National Congress presidents since Honduras existed as a republic. Every last one is a man. This is the room where the real decisions are made and political pacts are cooked up.
The plenary chamber is supported by great columns in a huge space that goes right down to the bottom of the building where the deputies’ offices are. This open-air space is what’s called the “Bottom of the National Congress” and it’s where we were. It’s where people generally go to protest the laws representatives pass to the people’s detriment, or because they don’t pass the laws people demand. Six years ago, to prevent protests, the legislators decided to fence off that lower part with a metal barrier that enclosed all the buildings. In one of their demonstrations the teachers’ unions pulled it up by the roots, and as a symbol of that gesture against the legislators, someone left graffiti that said: “We don’t give a shit about Congress!”
During the hunger strike, the Bottom of the National Congress turned into another national congress in which “the people at the bottom” legislated. Above us were the representatives defending Rosa Bautista. And down where we were a multitude of people legislated by fighting against the corrupt above. In those days one literally learned to fight and legislate “from below,” from the Bottom of Congress.
We held meetings eight or ten times a day to analyze events, produce proposals, discuss how far we were prepared to cede and decide on what was not negotiable. Even further down, in the basement of the whole building where the deputies’ car park was, all 32 of us strikers would go and wash in the tank used to wash their luxury cars. Brutal confrontations took place in those same basements when “la chamizada”—the acclaimed Honduran leftist youth movement—blocked the legislators’ exit on various occasions until they passed the decrees our commission had negotiated with them.
The conspiracy theoryThe hunger strike revealed who’s who in Honduras. Nobody stayed on the fence. The hunger strike allowed us to all really get to know each other, past the words and the poses. There was nowhere to hide. A good part of the Catholic Church wanted to appear neutral but neutrality wasn’t an option. Those who wanted to define themselves as neutral were in fact biased in favor of the corrupt political class. To avoid this connection, sectors in the Church claimed they possessed precise information proving the hunger strike was linked to a conspiracy, and that we strikers wanted to destabilize the country, either deliberately or because we were misinformed. By this definition those of us taking part in the strike were either conspirators or useful stooges. As I was certainly not a conspirator, I was doubtless among the latter.
The national circumstances fed the conspiracy argument. President Zelaya had begun the second year of his mandate trapped in the isolation created by the decisions of his team of “patricians,” who suddenly found themselves catapulted into state offices and concluded that they had all the country’s power in their hands. Brimming with arrogance; they all believed their own rap and committed all sorts of disasters and mistakes.
After two and a half years of misgovernment, other groups in the political class can no longer put up with Zelaya’s team. The President has come into clear confrontation with the other branches of state and all his decisions are immediately torpedoed by the rest of the political class. The media opted to isolate the executive and side with the other state authorities. In this setting, the conspiracy theory isn’t totally absurd: it was logical that the President would attempt to regain his power. The prosecutors’ hunger strike fit the bill and of course he would want to use it to his advantage.
In the twilight of the night a minister would troop through the Bottom of the Congress here, another one there, a secretary over on the other side, all doubtless looking for a chance to influence the decisions the striking prosecutors were making. One night the President himself arrived, battered cowboy’s hat and all, ignoring the damage his presence could do to the prosecutors, who were working hard to keep their hands and ideas free of the influence of power groups either committed to corruption or spattered by the corrupt acts of those they protected. Nothing came of Zelaya’s visit.
The conspiracy theory found its way into all embassy offices, the nunciature, the offices of the different Catholic dioceses and nongovernmental organizations. The media leapt on the chance to present this plot as unquestionable truth, on the basis of which they disparaged, denigrated and even ridiculed those of us participating in the hunger strike.
They suspected everybodyThe national destabilization theory was the dreadful excuse certain sectors of the Catholic hierarchy used to justify their decision to reject the strike. By so doing, they only hid the age-old commitments to sectors the Church asks to be good public servants but with whom they ally and mutually support in compromising situations that are a far cry from good public service and the interests of the poor.
The Bishops’ Conference never declared itself. Its silence was a confession of doubt, fears, compromises and suspicions. Its calculated silence expressed a lack of generosity. The excessive calculations and distance from an act representing such a large dose of sacrifice left me with the sensation that our hierarchy has lost that beautiful thing which in the Christian faith we call no self-interest.
No self-interest allows one to take risks, to cast oneself into the unknown, even though one might make mistakes there. The hierarchy doesn’t want to run the risk of being wrong. And that’s precisely where it is wrong: remaining tightly closed to these breezes of the Spirit that bring us the gift of no self-interest from the God of Life. It suspected all of us who were on strike.
The prosecutors were suspected of leading the conspiracy; the evangelical pastors were suspected of using the strike to raise the profile of their own agenda; I was suspect simply for being there, not to mention for celebrating the Eucharist with the prosecutors and the Lenca Indians from COPINH who also came by the hundreds to support the hunger strike. Everyone and everything was suspect because it was being said that everybody involved in any way with the strike was only there looking out for their own interests.
What’s behind it all?The evangelical churches also had to make their position clear. Pastor Evelio Reyes started out with the support of the Confederation of Evangelical Churches, but it didn’t last long; division was rife. Some ended up siding with one of the Catholic factions in support of those with the greatest responsibility in the sea of national corruption, both public and private, despite the fact that under normal conditions they are mutually opposed and attack each other to the death.
Evelio Reyes gave enough reasons for the suspicions against him. His head-on sermons attacked the Congress president and corrupt public functionaries. His message overshadowed other religious leaders with a bigger following in the country. They squared off into opposing camps, for reasons not of doctrine but of ethics and anti-ethics. Evelio Reyes’ discourse was blatantly political and in Honduras the only ones who talk about politics unambiguously do so because they want to be President, or at least a legislator. As a result all eyes were on Pastor Evelio, expecting him to opt for one of the political parties. Or did he maybe want to create a religious party?
I frequently wondered myself what was behind this man with such a well-groomed figure, behind his impeccable preaching, as millennial as it was politic, behind the personality cult with which his congregation rewarded him. Evelio Reyes continues to be a political question mark. He has confirmed over and over again his decision not to seek political office, at the same time that he encourages people to participate in party politics as a way of removing power from the political class.
With wisdom and moderationAlthough the Bishops’ Conference as the collective representation of the Catholic Church remained silent, the bishops themselves participated in the strike in very diverse ways. Father German Cálix, the National Pastoral director, was appointed spokesman of the negotiating commission by the striking prosecutors, and was at the Bottom of the Congress all the time. His participation was outstanding and his wise moderation was decisive in an agitated environment that favored hasty decisions.
We all knew that the very voice of the hierarchy, which has enormous respect and appreciation for Father Cálix, was in his presence and his word. His interventions were always carefully weighed and he never departed from the prudence he has displayed all his life. Through him, the shadow of the Cardinal and the Bishop’s Conference were noticeable in the strike. Gentle, calm and even-tempered from beginning to end, Cálix was always needed in a scenario shot through with emotions. I personally experienced his solidarity. In those days of political tensions and pressures Father Cálix proved himself to be a man seasoned at balancing. His heart was with the strikers, but he knew how to control it as far the foot standing in the church establishment required. Not in vain has he known how to win the friendship of those who seek to justify their fear of any resolution that might jeopardize their hard-won personal and family security.
The voices of some bishopsThe bishop of the western Santa Rosa diocese was with us from beginning to end. And it meant a lot. Luis Alfonso Santos is a man who knows how to shake off calculating flattery. And his closeness to the poorest congregation in Honduras has changed his life. His spirit of freedom has led him not to worry about controlling his feelings. On May 6, I was lying on my side in my tent trying to cheat the savage hunger by falling asleep - impossible - when I felt someone patting my back. I rolled over and unexpectedly met the penetrating and tender look of Monsignor Santos. “Here I am,” he said, “I’ve come to thank you because you’ve come to show your face for the Church.”
He told me he’d also gone to thank Evelio Reyes, because a place like this provides a good atmosphere for ecumenical expressions. We chatted a while about the difficult time the prosecutors were having enduring hunger for more than a month. Before leaving the tent that was my home at the time, Monsignor Santos passed on the greetings sent by the presbytery of the Santa Rosa of Copán diocese and blessed me. For the first time in my life I felt like a representative of a diocesan church, one that isn’t even the diocese where I work.
Another day I got a call from the bishop of Trujillo in the northeastern Caribbean region. He didn’t ask me how I was or
give me his blessing. He called to ask if the President was manipulating the prosecutors, as was being said, and what the Church could do. At that point, the bishops were contemplating issuing a pronouncement warning of the danger of destabilizing the country in response to a public call for civil disobedience by striker Víctor Fernández because the National Congress was passing decrees that contradicted agreements reached by the negotiating committees.
Given that the Bishop’s Conference had not come out in favor of the hunger strike, my reply to the bishop was that the best thing it could do at this point would be to continue its silence. Opposing the strikers would have put those of us inside that struggle—particularly Father Cálix and myself—in a very tough situation. We had never criticized the hierarchy at the Bottom of the Congress and certainly not to the media to avoid raising feelings against those who, as a body, had opted for political calculations and not compassion.
On Saturday, May 3, Juan Luis Giasson, the bishop of Yoro, celebrated a beautiful Eucharist in El Progresso’s central park in which he expressed his solidarity with the striking prosecutors and said it was necessary to fight for the equal application of justice to all and not the privileged, political way it’s applied in Honduras. There were no other expressions of solidarity from the other bishops.
More and more joinThe prosecutors recount that in the first five days, when nobody would give a lempira for those deluded prosecutors, other dreamers, led by Juan Barahona, coordinator of the controversial leftist Popular Bloc, accompanied the strikers and guarded them at night. Sandra Maribel Sánchez, the equally controversial journalist, whom no power has managed to force to give up her independence and dignity, did her bit in solidarity with the strikers from the microphone of her radio programs. There weren’t many others during those first days. Later the young Mariana Díaz, an independent, joined the fast for 20 straight days. She was joined by the Torres Fúnes brothers, both journalists and followers of the praiseworthy but limited breed of independent journalists who fortunately still stay in this country. They formed the nucleus of what came to be called the “Press without censorship” in the strike.
People kept on joining until they turned the Bottom of the Congress into a real avalanche of dignity. At least in the first three weeks it was all the product of spontaneous, almost never organized personal initiatives. Young people in the capital joined in, at first one at a time until they eventually constituted an organized presence they called the “young left alliance.” A whole cultural display, including theater, song, poetry, dance and painting, turned that space into a genuine and ongoing manifestation of young, civic and peaceful political resistance to the corruption.
What about the traditional Left?The organized Left and the traditional grassroots movement put in an appearance late and lethargically. It was hard for their leaders to accept the limitations in the inventory of jobs. In the end, they prefer to avoid analyzing the strike and when studying the national dynamic define the strike as just one more of the year’s events at best.
We met with the leaders of two workers’ unions on April 30 and suggested that the traditional May 1 International Workers’ Day March end at the Bottom of the Congress. They said yes, but it felt as if they were saying no. In fact the march wound up in the central park, but as the demonstrators had to pass the Bottom of the Congress, it became the real platform given that all organizations stopped in front of the group of prosecutors to support them. They turned slogans about the struggle against the corrupt into the main cry that gave content, identity and novelty to the otherwise now folkloric march of the workers’ unions.
Two weeks earlier, on April 17, the Popular Resistance’s National Coordinator had called for a nationwide strike to present its demands to the government. I harbored the hope that the purpose of the hunger strike would become the central demand that day, and that the demonstrators could end up at the Bottom of the Congress. But like that parable in the Gospel, all the demonstrators saw the strikers, then continued on their way. They couldn’t stop because they were going to shout at the President about his incompetence and demand that he take responsibility for the country’s plight. That day, the organized grass roots lost a great opportunity to capitalize in one fell swoop on the strike’s demands and thus earn the understanding and loyalty of the young prosecutors, who had little or no experience of the ups and downs of the grassroots struggle.
The explicit presence of the grassroots movement’s organized sectors began to make itself felt as of May 3. Before then their presence had been basically through personal initiatives, with the exception of the Popular Bloc’s decision. In the last days of the strike, the organized presence of the teachers’ unions and different grassroots was strongly felt, but mistrust and suspicion towards the prosecutors, because they were professionals and public employees, characterized the relationship and the decisions of grassroots leaders. The reading of what happened tends to be based on those last days when the grassroots movement had a presence in the strike rather than on a serious self-critical analysis of the whole of it. Because of this, the analysis is more triumphal than measured, more from the viewpoint of the noise and “people united” slogans than from reality.
The Lencas: Always thereThose who were there from beginning to end, during the whole period of peaceful resistance, were the Lencas organized in the Civic Committee of Indigenous and Grassroots Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). Their presence was massive. They had three people in the hunger strike and they were accompanied by some hundred other men and women, who used to torment our digestive juices when they would put their beans on to cook and make tortillas. Several times I felt a terrible urge to snatch the tortillas and cheese away from those people who have suffered historical hunger. Both the men and the women would organize the nightly watch and in the morning would insist that I celebrate the Mass with them. Then they would eat a couple of tortillas with coffee and leave, disciplined and organized, to continue the pressure campaign they had decided on against various public institutions linked to corruption.
The “White March”...On May 14, as the hunger strike was ending, the big business interests of Honduras’ North Coast organized a march for peace and tolerance in complete coordination with those responsible for the insecurity and bending of laws in the country. “White March” they called it. It was organized with all the resources and publicity of the media that hadn’t covered the hunger strike and was deliberately times to counteract the grassroots mobilizations around the struggle against corruption.
and a march of many colors
The owners of the sweatshop assembly plants for re-export known as maquilas, who are expert in abusing the time and rights of women workers, not only gave all their workers the day off but also handed out T-shirts and food to those who went on the “white march.” An important entrepreneur with interests in the maquila industry, banking, trade and the media headed up the march’s organization, knowing that his corruption files were gathering dust onthe Public Ministry’s shelves.
The National Congress president went on that march with his head held high even though he had just negotiated protection of the prosecutor general’s impunity at all cost. Three days earlier this same prosecutor general had accused me in the media of harassing his family home while I, famished, dozed at the Bottom of the Congress.
The same day two marches with many colors and slogans were held in favor of the strikers. One was in the morning, without money and without publicity but in total rejection of the groups in power. The Bishop of the San Pedro Sula diocese marched euphorically in the one in the afternoon in San Pedro Sula; he was dressed in white from head to toe.
The final proclamationAt one o’clock in the afternoon of that same day, in an atmosphere of supportive solidarity, the prosecutors and others on the hunger strike announced the end of that peaceful, civic resistance struggle after various grassroots sectors had taken the microphone to request them to suspend it: “You’ve made the sacrifice now; you’ve already opened the way. From this moment forward, with the flag dyed in self-sacrifice and patriotism, it is the people’s turn to carry on what you’ve started in the country.”
Then Víctor Fernández, president of the Prosecutor’s Association, took over and read out the proclamation (see box below) to the country. The hunger strike had lasted 38 days.
After the strikeThose of us who starved have begun bit by bit to regain the lost pounds. The chores of daily routine seem to be relegating the whole experience to a story that has given all it had to give. NGOs are already getting bits of money from agencies to “systematize” the hunger strike with good salaries for famous “consultants.” The prosecutor general is still at his job of protecting the corrupt. The media are making their effort to consign the hunger strike to a forgotten corner with their insipid news. The politicians are hard at work to convince society of the prosecutors’ failure and the futility of their struggle, while various sectors of the country’s elites are again comfortable in their lethargy and
the familiar route that is taking the country into the political campaign with the same corrupt figures as always.
In spite of all this, on May 24—ten days after the strike was suspended—the Bottom of the National Congress was
back in the news. From all over the country a huge crowd gathered to hear the strikers announce their decision to set up the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice. The president of the Prosecutors’ Association read the movement’s constituent proclamation and asked the crowd’s opinion. Five minutes of uninterrupted applause endorsed the fact that the country was starting a new period in its history.
With that the strikers laid the foundations of an organizational structure to channel the sympathy and consciousness awakened in diverse sectors of Honduran society. The hunger strike to demand a clean-up in the Public Ministry had dovetailed with a desire for justice and dignity that had been growing silently in Honduran society. While the major media muted the strike or distorted its objectives, many people didn’t need the media to give them information
or convey the “truth” about events. They were convinced that the civic actions against the corrupt represented their own feelings and desire for dignity and justice. The hunger strike has awakened the national conscience to the need to fight corruption, and unmasked the political class as directly responsible for that corruption or for protecting the corrupt. That in turn has imbued with greater force the need to fight the political structure that defends such impunity and those who use the state to personal or family advantage.
The four fruits of the strikeThe great harvest of the hunger strike is a broad movement that is political and defined by the head-on struggle against the country’s corrupt political class. The strike also bore at least four fruits that represent political challenges for this period.
First is the awakening of many lower and middle class people to the need to fight for dignity against corruption. They grasped that it’s not just about criticizing corruption yet remaining indifferent to what politicians and public officials do with state assets, but of committing themselves to participating actively in denouncing and unmasking the corrupt and those who squander assets belonging to the whole nation. This fruit represents the challenge of how to pull together the sympathy awakened by this cause and channel it into a social organization that can provide structure to the fight against corruption.
The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice has already linked the diverse sectors that actively participated in the strike. Now their leaders have begun visiting different parts of the country to tell the population about the strike’s achievements and the current state of the fight, and to set up regional structures to ensure that the movement being born isn’t defined around agreements at the top but rather on the basis of organized interests in the real life of communities linked by territory.
Two legal instrumentsThe second fruit was to have pulled two important legal instruments out of the political class and public officials; this would never have happened if it weren’t for the fight started by the prosecutors. They consist of two decrees negotiated during the strike: one to investigate the accusations against the prosecutor general—who should be suspended from his post during the investigation—and the other to appoint a commission with full authority to examine the files of notorious corruption cases linked to high-up public and private officials. The second decree is precisely one of the strikers’ two key demands, and the first one opens the way for satisfaction of its other demand— Rosa Bautista’s dismissal.
But there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip. The representatives to the National Congress are already starting to abuse these legal instruments, and the political class is determined to turn them into arguments to preserve Rosa Bautista’s immunity against the charges filed against him and set the stage for appointing a new prosecutor general who would remain loyal to the interests of the power groups.
The judicial process has once again been converted into an obstacle course, putting into motion procedures that can halt the application of justice. The embryonic Broad Movement has pursued the demand that the two approved decrees be put into practice. Will their efforts be in vain?
With head held highThe third fruit is to have come out of the strike with heads held high, with neither the prosecutors nor those who accompanied them having made a political pact or signed any agreement with the corrupt political classes. No politician or public official can say they gained an advantage from the strike at the cost of the strikers’ dignity. The struggle brought to light how politicians and public officials maneuver, threaten and bend the law and exercise control over the country’s main media. But at no time did they manage to break the prosecutors.
The strikers may not have gotten rid of Rosa Bautists, but both he and the National Congress president with his
pack of yes-men have come out of it so discredited that their lives and political futures will not enjoy the same impunity they used to flaunt. It was a well-known secret that once Rosa Bautista’s term ended as prosecutor general, he would pass over to preside the Supreme Court. He now won’t be able to pursue that political career with the same success.
At one point, high-up political figures and public officials made a huge effort to negotiate with the prosecutors based on the usual logic of handing out shares of power. At another they thought they could end the strike by signing agreements that would raise the profile of some public officials involved up to their ears in political campaigns, or even raise the profile of some religious figure too worn out by the long hunger strike.
The strikers didn’t cave in. Their sacrifice produced few tangible gains but impressive popular backing and respect for their integrity. As a result, the hunger strike has become one of the greatest public assets after years of lacking any ethical assets that make Honduran society feel worthy.
A reality: lack of leadership The fourth fruit the strike left us with is the evidence that this country lacks leadership, as much on the corrupt right as on the left and in the grassroots movement. The insensitive Right is working to consolidate its positions with the usual old caudillos. The next elections, for example, will doubtless leave us with legislators, mayors and a President who will represent the stalest leadership the country has to offer. And any faces that emerge already bear the features of the country’s most seasoned caudillos. The Right hasn’t known how to renew its leadership or allow the emergence of new dynamics, faces, names, content or methods with the capacity to rejuvenate it. Now it has no option but to move towards the harshest authoritarianism.
The Left finds itself in a similar situation. It doesn’t possess a new generation committed to the intellectual, cultural, social and political challenges coming up in the 21st century. It resembles the Right inasmuch as its emerging new faces fervently repeat the slogans and script of the Left’s decades of glory: the struggle to take power, socialism and Marxism of the purest line, without airing out this rich thinking by reinterpreting it in the light of a new historical reality.
Given such a great void of leadership the risk of a dangerous messianic religiosity is growing. This danger was evident in the hunger strike. Dazzling religious leaders find fertile ground in such arenas of popular struggle precisely due to the absence of social, popular and political leadership. Filling this political vacuum with messianic religious proposals is a risk that could cost the country dear. As much from a leftist perspective as from a rightist one, any form of fundamentalism, be it religious or political, would unquestionably lead us to a new authoritarianism. And that, at the end of the day, would legitimate those sectors interested in solidifying the business of fear and insecurity, reducing democracy to decisions taken by certain power groups.
Could the prosecutors be leaders?The striking prosecutors may be the new leadership the country needs, but it’s a project still in its infancy and they still need to prove themselves. We’ve already known other experiences near and far of highly committed, self-sacrificing leaders who at some point in history had offered the best of their lives. Then once they feasted on fame and possessed some degree of power, they went from the sublime of their sacrifices to the ridiculousness of their dishonest and corrupt doings.
These prosecutors have already questioned traditional leadership with their undertaking, exposing the absence of social and political leaders as well as the urgent need to back new ones who with their actions, observations and discourse will question all manifestations of the authoritarianism, fundamentalism and rigidity that have characterized Honduras’ political panorama.
To back the development of a new generation committed to leadership that combines personal and public life, ethics and politics, simplicity and intellectual ability would without doubt be one of the best political presents the prosecutors who decided to start the hunger strike could bequeath the country.
The challenge is to link up the processTo give continuity to the struggle against corruption begun by the prosecutors, different factors need to be linked up in
one process. The Broad Movement’s organizational and territorial development needs to be combined with legal pressure; with defining and implementing an outreach strategy that counteracts the media manipulation of the radio chains, television channels and four newspapers. It also needs to be combined with an investigation into the facts of corruption, identifying by name those who are supporting corruption in this country.
This process kicked off by the prosecutors must turn into an opportunity to unite different sectors of society around a struggle to rescue politics from the existing five parties, developing organizational proposals that over time can compete successfully with the political campaigns with which the two major parties in particular intimidate people. Without a doubt, this is the greatest political-strategic challenge right now.
Knee-jerk activism To take on these challenges, our first actions must be geared to strategy-building. The urge to do something immediately and the disease of activism shows that leaders are committed but ends up wearing them out and entangling them in current events. Overcoming short-term vision and activism are prerequisites to the possibility of promoting real strategic processes. Many activists, leaders of social and grassroots movements, work hard to be involved in all current events because they don’t want to lose any opportunity of being a protagonist, as if each event were decisive to national change; nobody wants to lose a chance to “make history.” The Broad Movement must struggle internally to cure its leaders of this Promethean disease that makes them believe that without them, without their efforts, the country can’t be saved and only their presence can guarantee the success of the people’s cause.
We should keep away Honduras is currently abustle with political campaigning for the parties’ primary elections, the antechamber to general elections. Leaders of different social sectors are already nervous because they don’t want to miss the attractive pomp of electoral politics. The truth is that these elections are already sewn up. The candidates for mayors, legislators and President of the Republic who will come out of those blue and red ballot boxes have already been negotiated with the bosses who run their political parties like fiefdoms, manipulating simple people of good will as if they were clients who could increase their political businesses.
from the election campaign
Once elected to positions of authority these candidates will choose those in charge of administering justice. If the country doesn’t change, they will do it in the service of the political parties’ caudillos and overseers who control the state. The three small parties have very little to do in this system apart from standing behind the two powerful electoral machines, and very little to propose that might have any real influence. The primaries are just a formality. The true elections are decided before trusting people get to vote.
The greatest disservice one could do to the Broad Movement would be to accept an offer from any one of the five political parties. Taking part in the electoral process would not only legitimate the groups in power who are pulling all the campaigns’ strings; it would abort the movement when it has scarcely been conceived and begun its gestation process. The electoral process doesn’t belong to serious and visionary people and thus the movement must ignore it and take up its position elsewhere: for example, questioning electoral politics as a socially demobilizing factor.
The greatest service one could do to the process started by the hunger strike—and now beginning to express itself through the Broad Movement—is to dedicate all efforts to sowing the organizational conditions for the movement in the countryside. The prosecutors should take an oath not to accept political candidacies under any circumstances. This way the movement can continue consolidating itself over time until it constitutes a political project—no sooner than 2012—that can act with its own purpose and shine with its own light without needing to borrow a flag from any of the five existing political parties. The Broad Movement’s mission is to be a political project that breaks with the dynamic of those parties. It was born at the Bottom of the Congress and must build itself bottom-up from the people.
Our gamble We back:
* The development of an ongoing head-on struggle against all types of corruption.
* The dignifying of all Hondurans trampled throughout history.
* Constructing ourselves as a people, understanding this as the organized coming together of all who are oppressed and exploited.
* Creating the conditions for a society in which institutions are at the service of the people and justice is meted out without privileges.
* Being people who fight against the oppression of women, youth and indigenous people.
* Generating a change in the social, politic and economic system that has historically reigned in our country to the detriment of the majority of Honduran men and women.
* Using peaceful and civic resistance and not active violence as a method for unmasking and thwarting those who choose violence.
Our rejections We renounce:
* Any acceptance of institutionalized corruption.
* Any official discourse that defends a false rule of law and democracy, products of corruption, privilege and impunity.
* Politics understood as one-upmanship or a way of trafficking with people’s needs, consciousness and dignity.
* A society that legitimates the inequalities between women and men.
* Indifference and compliance in the face of injustice.
* Being corrupt, understanding as corrupt people who commit acts of corruption and those who permit or tolerate them with their silence.
Our pathOur path is the one that brings together everyone who feels grief for their country and indignation at corruption; the one that leads to the creation of an organization and leadership based on a commitment to lift up and inspire people who have been humiliated and oppressed; the one that creates new leaders who combine words with life experience, know how to transform destruction into solidarity and failures into opportunities to strengthen the fight; the one that leads to the development of new gender relationships in women and men; and the one that awakens a new generation committed to dignity and justice.
We want to walk with men and women who are conscious of and determined to fight the corruption and the corrupt who operate in society’s different spheres. We want to walk with all organizations—social, popular, community, rural, indigenous, Christian, advocacy, trade unions, human rights, feminist, youth, of different sexual options—in short, with all the movements and people who want to continue constructing themselves as a people along the way.
Our prioritiesThe Broad Movement must become a project with territorial organization. Its place must be defined outside the elite circles where leaders traditionally make agreements. And so as not to be an organization of cultivated leaders, the Broad Movement must build itself outside of the capital’s cliques and social and grassroots movement sectors that define themselves based on the directors, coordinators, presidents or general secretaries of the organizations and bodies that make up Honduras’ existing social and grassroots movement. It must create itself territorially in the country’s different regions. And it must avoid the current electoral process as a political decision.
This organizational component should be implemented by programming visits to most of the country’s sectors and regions. These visits will need to be well organized and include people from the given area’s social, community and religious organizations. To carry out this priority task, the territory will need to be mapped and the area’s people, groups and organizations identified, avoiding sticking only with the usual connections as this runs the risk that instead of being a new venture, the Broad Movement simply consolidates the petty chiefs and top-down structures and individuals that characterize the country’s organized political panorama.
Other communications networksParallel to assembling itself on the ground, the Broad Movement should implement an investigation and analysis of the groups and the media compromised by corruption. This documentary work should give content, seriousness and respect to any criticism, accusations and legal suits the Broad Movement presents to Honduran society. Investing energy, resources and people in this research work will be more than justified by the insightful contributions it will be able to offer in following up the scandals of the corrupt political and business classes nationally.
The Broad Movement should design and implement a coherent communication strategy based on setting up an alternative network of local and community radios, TV channels and written media around common issues and content. Effective competition with the media that monopolize news and public opinion based on the interests of the power groups doesn’t mean setting up big media, but rather linking the largest number of little ones scattered across the country. Nor is it effective to replace existing small media or create new ones; political effectiveness resides in linking these media around content and a common strategy. In effect, the group that called itself “Press without censorship” during the strike is now the main upholder of the movement’s emerging communication strategy.
With what funds?The Broad Movement will also need a finance strategy that can guarantee the effective development of its work. This strategy must be based on contributions from ordinary people rather than just from sectors with the capacity to sustain a struggle economically. Diverse pockets of economic support should be sought and all are important, but the Broad Movement must aspire to ensure that ordinary people in the community feel the fight for dignity and justice is being channeled through a movement that belongs to them, not to illustrious elites who meet in the capital.
For this to happen, the defined finance strategy should depend on fundraising activities in the villages, communities and neighborhoods where the poor live. In the villages and neighborhoods, putting out a pot where people can deposit their lempira would be a potent symbol for the building of a movement from the bottom up. Just as the movement emerged from the Bottom of the Congress, it should be consolidated from the “bottom of people’s lives.”
With what alliances?The Broad Movement will have to promote a policy of alliances based on ongoing feedback from the territorial community movement, where it should locate its greatest identity. Its first basic alliances must be with sectors organized territorially. Later will come links with organizations grouped around the National Popular Resistance Coordinator (CNRP), prioritizing the regional bodies that identify most clearly with the territorial community movement. Next would come coordination with nongovernmental organizations and institutions, prioritizing those that have a recognized historical commitment to grassroots struggles and to the defense and promotion of human, environmental and women’s rights.
Finally, dialogue and eventual coordination with the churches would be established, singling out those that have known how to unite their profession of faith with the practice of justice and establish political commitment based on an endorsement of lay leadership, and that pledge to keep their religious options completely independent of the Broad Movement’s political options.
Except in the case of duly discussed and agreed-upon extraordinary circumstances, specific agreements will be established with political parties and state entities based on the particular action in question, avoiding ongoing alliances.
For cultural identityAmong its priorities, the Broad Movement must also promote an educational and cultural development proposal emphasizing the establishment of schools that link political issues with ethics, culture and methodology and people’s actions with their being. As far as possible, rigid and dispersed workshops should be avoided in favor of learning by doing. Likewise, cultural development must be directly connected to the life of the territorial communal movement, cornerstone of the Broad Movement. For example, promoting regional song, theater and poetry festivals with women, young people and community organizations so as to include the Broad Movement in rescuing cultural, human, political and social identity and stimulating new gender relationships in the community.
The specific fight to get justice to work correctly is a priority that completes and complements the previous ones. The struggle against the corruption and ruses of the corrupt political classes has to be channeled precisely. This component of the specific fight for justice should follow up on the two decrees passed by Congress, the selection of the new prosecutor general and 15 Supreme Court justices to be chosen in early 2009. This follow-up should be accompanied by national and international denunciations of all the tricks the corrupt political classes are already using to control and abuse public institutions.
Organizing the dreamsLess than two months after ending their hunger strike, the strikers, together with various sectors that accompanied their struggle, have already met on several occasions to share food and personal, family and social experiences to strengthen their dreams. The decision to give organizational form to so much support finds consensus among all those who meet. The diversity of people, organizations and histories is enormous, and all are very wary of those who organize because the eagerness for power and the use of the demands of the poor to gain rank has embittered the history of the Honduran Left.
Despite everything, the mystique that has sprung up from the strike’s sacrifice is in the air. That and the desire to organize against all kinds of corruption without power struggles today dominate those who have decided to harness the sympathy generated by the strike to transform it into the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice. We have decided not to create complicated structures, or even permanent ones. Just a small national coordinating body has been sufficient to get the first process underway. The main thing we’ve tried to do so far is give order to all these plans and dreams.
The Strikers’ Proclamation“After 38 glorious days on a hunger strike, embarked upon as an extreme expression of civic and pacific resistance, we protesting prosecutors and other men and women who set up our tents at the Bottom of the National Congress, as well as those who stoically accompanied us in harsh conditions in the Aguán, El Progreso and La Ceiba regions, in the west and other areas of the country, declare to Honduran society and the international community that:
1. We have borne this sacrifice with the pride of being Hondurans. We have suffered hunger, but every day that the need and urgency to eat increased, so too did our solidarity with and pain for the impoverished people subjected to live in hunger by our country’s corrupt exploiters. Today our hunger for justice and our solidarity with the poor and all humiliated people has become a permanent option in our lives.
2. We have put up this peaceful fight out of a personal and voluntary decision and for 38 long days have abstained from eating solid food by choice for our country’s justice and dignity. Those who have accused us of violating our fast will have this on their conscience—if indeed they possess one. Instead of damaging us they placed us on the path of ethics and transparency and never on the path of the double standards that characterizes much of the society of those satiated with material resources and political, economic and religious privileges.
3. In these 38 days of peaceful civic resistance we have received the gift of solidarity from ethical Honduras, honest and dignified Honduras, expressed by thousands of men and women who have individually made theirs the struggle we have undertaken, by social organizations immersed in the colors of hope, by grassroots and indigenous organizations, by the Evangelical and Catholic churches, by nongovernmental and advocacy organizations that put their own interests and organization aside to open themselves generously to the call of dignity and justice for all Honduras. That worthy and patriotic Honduras showed up at our shelters, marched through the streets, cried out for a fair and honest homeland and gave us fresh reserves of solidarity and struggle that are a guarantee for the new country that is starting to be created as the greatest gift for 21st-century Honduras.
4. We have experienced for ourselves in a way we could never have imagined, the cruelty, inhumanity and dishonesty of the political classes and an antiquated sector of the business world, a shameful and rotten stain on our country. Their political calculations, dirty deals, abuse of the law, broken promises, vain and idolatrous use of God’s name, corrupt pacts, subjection of the rule of law to their whims and caprices and protection of their interests even at the cost of people’s lives have opened our eyes to the need to fight tenaciously against this depraved caste that will have to be eradicated from the face of politics and the Honduran state. This political class has destroyed our values, trampled our laws in the name of the Republic’s Constitution, used God’s name when deciding against the people and taken advantage of the patience and ignorance of humble people to appropriate the Honduran state for their own interests and whims. This antipatriotic and sullied political class has created corruption as a way of doing politics, threatening and trafficking with the Honduran people’s needs. To fight this political class until it disappears from the face of the homeland is one of the greatest convictions we have inherited from 38 days on hunger strike.
5. We have gotten two important legal instruments out of this degenerate political class: a decree to suspend and investigate the attorney general and his assistant and a decree to set up commissions to investigate the Public Ministry’s institutional problems and re-examine the cases that link high-up national personalities with specific acts of public corruption. We don’t doubt that these instruments will be twisted and misused, as are all legal instruments in the hands of the political class. But they are gains of the entire Honduran people, who have raised up today and will have to defend them tomorrow, demanding their fulfillment with heart and soul so that our sacrifice, our cries and our marches will not have been in vain. Everybody must defend the instruments we wrenched by force of struggle and sacrifice from those who have taken over our Honduran state and stubbornly and futilely set out to rob us of our hopes.
6. Today we bring this phase of the hunger strike to an end, but the struggle of peaceful and civic resistance has barely begun. We call upon our people, the most beautiful, honest people with a single dignified face, who have risen up at the voice of justice and against corruption, we call upon them to pursue an organized struggle with wholly peaceful methods, which are the only ones that can break and destroy the plans of this corrupt, violent political class. We call upon our people to continue the fight from the trenches of the streets, the grassroots and community organizations, the churches faithful to Jesus Christ’s Gospel, the public and private institutions where we work, the classrooms and the countryside. We call upon you to turn into a trench anyplace where there is sorrow for the homeland and where dignity and rejection of our perverse political class exists.
7. We renounce the political classes forever and today more than ever before, and declare that only the people can save the people. With this hunger strike we are making our contribution so that the struggle for dignity and against corruption through Peaceful and Civic Resistance might be the defining course of our 21st century. This sacrifice cannot be in vain because a society that doesn’t value the struggle of sacrificing one’s own body and life doesn’t deserve dignity. And we will continue to offer struggle and dignity. For this reason, people of Honduras, all you organizations, institutions and men and women who have kept us company these 38 days, we invite you to the Great Assembly of Dignity and Justice, led by all us strikers in different parts of the country. We’ll hold it on Saturday, May 24, at 10 am right here at the Bottom of the Congress, in order to define the Great Strategic Struggle to pursue the cause for dignity and against corruption that we’ve started with this hunger strike and will not stop until we see a Honduras free of the corrupt political class and all those who protect and bless them. As of this moment we are inaugurating the next stage in the Struggle for Peaceful and Civic Resistance, and now the people organized and ready to bear witness have the word and take up the new process of struggle.
8. We declare triumph in this battle and the beginning of victory in the war against the homeland’s enemies: those who surrendered her to international capital, those who looted the public companies, those who destroyed and carry on destroying our environmental riches, those who ransomed all state institutions, those who prevented the sovereignty of a genuine rule of law.
Ismael Moreno, sj, is the envío correspondent in Honduras.