MARADIAGA: My neglected homeland

Annelisa_Opinion Honduras_1206
Photo by Annelisa Leinbach.

When I was a high school senior, my relatives from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, my birthplace, came to visit my home in Texas. One night during their visit I tucked my six-year-old cousin into bed. She asked why all of the streetlights stayed on at night. When I explained that the lights were on so that people could walk safely, she was surprised. “In Honduras,” she said, “no one goes outside at night. It’s not safe.”

Most people who know me know that I was not born in this country. When I tell friends at Yale I was born in Honduras, they smile, nod and nonchalantly steer the conversation in another direction. Sometimes they ask, “Where is that?” Once a classmate asked me “That’s in Mexico, right?” Over the years these sorts of conversations have frankly become heartbreaking. Honduras is the most murderous country in the world and the only country in the Western hemisphere to suffer a violent coup d’etat in just the last few years. Why, for some, does it not even ring a bell?

Deemed the most dangerous country in the world, Honduras remains extremely underrepresented in the media. Last year, the Associated Press sent a reporter, Alberto Arce, to Honduras to report on increasing gang violence and the ongoing turmoil occurring in the wake of the coup. At the time, he was the only foreign correspondent in the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa. Arce had reported in war zones before. The difference, he said, between Libya and Honduras was that in Libya, you “generally know where shooting occurs.” In Honduras, shootings could happen just about anywhere.

While Arce was in Honduras he reported on acts of terror. He investigated the murders of activists fighting economic inequality; he documented the deals that taxi drivers and business people must keep with gangs in order to operate on virtually any property. He also reported on instances of political corruption, such as politicians who distributed coffins as a campaign strategy in recent elections. As dead bodies accumulate in Honduras, there is no place to store them, and very few Hondurans can afford to pay the $125 fee for a coffin. Political candidates began giving them away to secure votes.

None of these stories surprise me. I grew up hearing about murders committed across the street from my grandmother’s house. I learned that my aunt once risked her life when she offered shelter to a family targeted by a gang. But for me that’s all these events are: stories. There is no way I can fully comprehend the violence occurring in my birthplace. I left when I was two years old and I have only returned twice in my life, for a couple of weeks.

Regardless, I am invested in bettering Honduras and I always will be. Most Americans do not even hear stories of the political struggles and ongoing violence in Honduras. But it is our duty as a campus, a community and a part of humanity to seek out information about the country.

Yale students are well-informed about so many parts of the globe — despite Honduras’s absence in the mainstream media, we would do well to learn more about this country, particularly given its unstable conditions. The presidential election occurred in Honduras just two weeks ago. Although thousands of activists and governmental organizations from around the world flocked there to monitor the voting process, I did not hear one person on campus speak of the election.

The electoral authority in Honduras has declared the ruling Nationalist Party’s candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, the president-elect. Hernandez was one of the candidates giving away coffins during the primaries. The European Union deemed the election transparent, but recently an observer from the official European Union delegation has defected from this position, citing breaches of electoral protocol. The electoral authority has agreed to review vote tallies.

As I continue to monitor the situation in Honduras, I hope others at Yale will join me. We pride ourselves on being a global community. For the sake of the hundreds murdered in Honduras every month, let us voice the stories that too often go unheard.

Karla Maradiaga is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at karla.maradiaga@yale.edu.

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