Monthly Archives: Dec 2017

2018: Make it your year

Dear readers,

I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2018.

2017 has been a difficult year for millions around the world, for one reason or other. Earth feels divided. Natural disasters and terrorism and political eruptions. I don’t want to be too gloomy. I’ll stop there.

I hope that 2017 was positive for many as well. Maybe you got married, had children, started a new job/hobby/kama sutra position, got a new pet or won an award. If so, congratulations. May your success follow on into 2018.

For the vast majority, 2017 has been a big dollop of meh. Ups and downs, swings and roundabouts. Not great, not terrible. Unfulfilling maybe.

I always find New Year’s resolutions difficult; broken promises to one’s self committed before the end first week of January. Gym memberships go to waste. Bad habits persist. Resentment lies within. I give up on them.

Instead, I’m focusing on the fresh, rather than defects.

For 2018, I challenge you to do the same.

Start something new. Creative whatever. Anything. Whatever makes you happy. A new goal. A book. A relationship. Adopt a different attitude (positive, of course). A new job. Website. Course. Poetry class. Painting. Movie. Business. Musical instrument. Sex position (not with the musical instrument, mind). Don’t let politics, negativity or haters distract you or give you an excuse not to do something or start. Don’t let anyone say you can’t. Tell laziness (or la hueva) to fuck itself. Do it for the fun of it. Make 2018 fresh. Make it yours. Own it.

In short, create the fuck out of 2018. And choose to be happy, if you’re not already.

Happy New Year, folks.


Colonia Capitalina

Dear readers,

I wrote this poem about six years ago and I found it in a journal I’ve had stored in a box. I thought I’d lost it. It was inspired by Colonia Capitalina, Tegucigalpa, a poor neighborhood I visited with Casa Alianza to meet a family with two daughters. The local gangs were wanting to recruit them, in one way or the other. To say it shocked me is an understatement; it was my first sight of extreme poverty in this country.

My life now feels like a world away from my first few years in Honduras. That isn’t a boast. Just honesty. I would like to return to work with vulnerable youths from poorer neighborhoods.

My thoughts in the poem are still relevant now, I think. Despite all the stats fiddling and redefining what is and what isn’t poverty, the problem isn’t going away.

Colonia Capitalina

Walking amongst the rubble

In another type of bubble,

Where outsiders avert their eyes and hold their nose,

Claiming this is the life you chose.

Rain rattles the steel ceilings,

And you walk in dirt on the floor,

Wondering what substance you’ll put in your mouth,

While keeping a gun propped up against the door.

MS13 will pass by later,

Collecting what they believe is theirs.

Dare you not send your daughter to the pulperia;

Or your 11 year old will receive predator stares (or more).

You don’t know when the plata’s coming;

You sometimes struggle to put clothes on your own back.

You pray that God is on your side,

While the rest of the world is having a crack.

Politicians steal and everyone knows it,

Yet they all claim to be here to save you.

A clean man in a white shirt slips 50 Lemps in your pocket,

Suggesting you say things you know aren’t true.

It’d be nice to have a Blackberry phone,

But a new mattress or stove would be better.

Though one never knows what the Lord has in store,

So best buy your daughter a warmer sweater.

Bumps in the night (in Tegucigalpa)

Dear readers,

It’s quarter of an hour past midnight, just six days before much of the world exchanges gifts, supposedly to celebrate the birth of the son of God, saviour on Earth. Yet Tegucigalpa doesn’t feel very Holy, nor does the rest of el país, and the Christmas spirit feels lacking, lost in the midst of uncertainty, nerves and resentment flowing around el pueblo. How will Santa get past the burning tyres and military presence? is being asked instead of what one is hopeful of getting for Christmas. (Depends on the plata in one’s pocket, I suppose).

In Miraflores we live mostly in a middle-class bubble, yet we know from the echoing bangs and yelps that we’re not too far from trouble. Sirens of ambulances, or police cars, or military, disturb the peace of night across the capital, swerving to avoid debris of the day’s events littering the streets. You don’t know where they’re going, nor whom or what they’re seeing to. The military helicopters hover low, arousing pets and wailing youth, and anxieties amongst the households, wondering what tomorrow brings. Calls to the streets and road blocks will be met by tear gas and the iron fist of the authorities. Fight with fire gets met with fire, that’s the general rule in this neck of the woods. One can only hope that not too much blood is spilt, and those that choose to protest do it with responsibility, which is not spiralled into violence.

Heated memes, personal messages and queasy threats heaped with questionable truths bellow around the social media and WhatsApp and you’ve no idea of where it comes from. Only someone with an agenda from one side of a political divide, which has split friends and families in two, blaming the other side for the chaos. Yet who started this? A toxic battle for power between the political elite based on popularism, rather than a clear manifesto which let’s el pueblo know what it’s voting for; the same pueblo that both sides claim they care for. But when has a manifesto ever been clear? It’s el pueblo that loses out in the end; not just in Honduras, but all corners of the world. All the while, an even bigger political power, an external one, leers over with particular interest…

It’s those cannons though…are they cannons? They sound like cannons. Midnight cannons that thud a vibration throughout a section of the city; bumps in the night are from another type of ghoul. Why it’s fired, no one knows. Who it’s fired at, the media might say tomorrow. The feeling of paranoia creeps over. Like when you’re small when images in the dark has the outline of a face, a dog bark or a yelp sounds like a collective roar, echoing from somewhere in the city crawling with soldiers clad in armour. The demons are at play. Somewhere.

It’s now an hour since I started writing, yet it’s a moment when the world’s supposed to be sleeping – or more egotistically, when I’m supposed to be sleeping. A peace torn part at the seams; one that doesn’t characterise the more sweet-natured Catracho spirit.

This is not Honduras’s finest hour. It’s full of bumps in the night.

El Regreso de una Wetback by Denia Nelson

Dear readers,

Honduras has been in the news for many wrong reasons this month. Yet in this post, I want to drag your attention away from the Honduran elections which still rumbles on, as well as the joys of Christmas shopping, and present to you a book I’m reading written by a Honduran female author named Denia Nelson.

It’s an autobiographical account of a poor Honduran’s upbringing in the small rural town of La Mala Laja not far from Tegucigalpa, during the 60s/70s. It’s a real eye opener in terms of the poverty-stricken conditions which more than 60% of the country live in; easy to forget when you live in a middle class bubble in Tegucigalpa like I do, despite seeing and hearing and sensing it everyday, but feeling powerless to do anything about it.. The family then ship her off to escape the poverty. I don’t want to leave spoilers. I’ll stop writing of the plot there.

Those who know me well can tell you that immigration is a topic close to my heart. After all, I am one. I used to work with immigrants, refugees in fact, and it was a job that so vigorously shaped my view of how we view immigrants. It’s one of the most polemic discussions today, and the anti-immigration stances of Donald Trump and Brexit campaigners played a big part in the swaying millions of people’s votes to win them elections or referendums.

Every one of the millions of people around the world living outside their country of origin have a unique story to tell, whether it be culture shocks, discrimination, love, business, running away from somewhere, running to somewhere, learning about something, embracing a culture… intoxicating cauldron of real-life plots, and this book is no different. I picked it up about a year ago at the National Autonomous University bookshop: one for out of interest about immigration, two for ideas about plots for my own novel. And it’s been well worth the money. I feel inspired, no less for the style of flowing prose, great story-telling which leaves you emotional and hooked, but also the hybridity of traditional Spanish and Honduran vocabulary, which I always love learning (I learned today that Secret Santa is called cuchumbo, and not cachumbo…. apparently cachumbo is a vulgar expression for a gay man, lest I be mistaken).

In terms of the descriptions of poverty, I am sure some might ask me to hide it, not write too much, as it might blight the more wonderful aspects of this colourful and vibrant country. Yet it’s an issue that can’t be swept under the carpet nor manipulated with statistics. It’s not going away by pretending it doesn’t exist. However, what it also uncovers is a hidden gem, which goes against the very negative belief that Hondurans aren’t literate nor care for literature. Hondurans have a wonderful way of working with words, and Nelson shows her talents. After all, she won an award in Australia for it in 2004.

I won’t rank it yet. I’ve not finished it. However, I will say that I’m enjoying it, and it’s the first I’ve enjoyed in some time.

Gracias Denia.

Honduran Elections 2017 – The Build Up – Part Two

Dear readers,

Having had an election earlier in the year in the UK, we Brits are accustomed to manifestos, so we can read the intentions of the candidates and know what we are voting for. It also holds parties accountable. It’s often not worth the paper it’s written on. Parties change their minds or things change, but it’s there. We get a copy. We can debate it. Ask questions. Scrutinize it. Is it a first world luxury? Yes. Probably.

Here, I’ve seen nothing of the sort. Lots of promises, but not explaining how it’s going to be achieved. No budgets, no transparency, lack of information, no clear idea what you’re voting for. Not that you would trust a politician anyway, especially looking at the track record, not just here but all over the world. This plays into the political elite’s hands obviously. The people are left with a popular vote. For the poorest, there have been reports of parties buying votes, or paying people to attend rallies. It’s disappointing. Again the poorest lose out.

As stated in the previous post, the anti Juan Orlando stance has been immense. On Twitter there is the #fueraJOHchallenge. I’m unsure what this entails, but there has been a ranchero song by the same name

Honduran Elections 2017 – The Build Up – Part One

Dear readers,

I write this on the second day of the military curfew, exactly a week after Hondurans went to the polls for the national elections. No doubt you’ve heard or seen what is going on. I’ve not written about the troubles so far because I didn’t know how to express the confusion and tension, nor keep up with the rapid escalation into chaos in the last few days. One has to be careful of their views, especially commenting as a foreigner on a heated election in a country known for political instability.

Just over a week ago, I was told by a friend who works for a well-known development bank to be extra careful, a couple of days before voting day. She was worried. On the same day, an opinion column was published in New York Times that had caught people’s attention, highlighting the current President Juan Orlando Hernández’s dubious record as president; how he got to power, and his intention to retain it. She recommended I stocked up on supplies, had plenty of cash, and I kept a low profile.

Very valuable advice, duely followed.

The back story to these elections is quite something. Picture a telenovela or Netflix series, yet it meddling with real people’s lives. A type of Gabriel García Marquez magic realism exists in Honduras, yet it is even more absurd. It was always going to be heated with Juán Orlando Hernández running for reelection. The act in itself was against the consitution, and a case of deja vú after the former president Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power eight years for trying the exact same thing. Juan Orlando played his part in the coup, funnily enough.

His four years in power have been eventful. He got the economy moving, creating millions of jobs, and also helped bring down some of the drug empires (which his own brother Tony Hernández now seems embroiled in) and investing in the prison system, which was long overdue.

However, there are also controversy stacked against him. Most notable is his role in the mess with IHSS (Honduran Social Security), where he used funds from the public entity for his election campaign back in 2013. During the scandal, a congress woman named Lena Gutierrez working under Juan Orlando, was arrested along with her father and two brothers for allegedly embezzling the state by selling it poor quality medicine at inflated prices. Consequently, many died. The IHSS had already faced mass spending cuts, unable to afford basic medication to treat patients; the majority being the poor working class. This in itself brought tens of thousands to the streets in protest, carrying torches, and demanding Juan Orlando’s resignation. He never did, and the damage was unrepairable for millions.

There has also been an authortarian approach, suppressing protests and human rights groups voices, often with extreme violence through a military whom he is chief-in-commander. He also thwarted investigations into the Berta Caceres murder. He has bought people, moved congressman like chess pieces to help push forward his own agenda. Running for reelection has topped things off, especially due to his links with the entity processing the elections – Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE). He has had the media on his side, much of the business sector and, over the years, support from the US government, whose opposition to leftist politics in Latin America is very well documented.

Certainly an imbalance of power. Was it enough to win people over?

I knew there was tension in the air. During the World Cup playoff game against Australia in San Pedro Sula, two thirds of the stadium began chanting Fuera JOH, meaning “Get Out JOH” (initials of Juan Orlando Hernández). It was intense to say the least. While the Honduras team were not at their best, football became second place. Fans and journalists around me joked that even Juan Orlando’s wife might be joining in.

Despite all this, Juan Orlando has been expected to win. I had guessed it in the primary elections back in March. But I, and most definitely Juan Orlando, underestimated the anger, especially with the youth vote. Remember, Honduras is a young nation. They had taken to PAC (the anti corruption party), which was formed before the 2013 elections by the sports journalist Salvador Nasralla.

The more leftist contingent follow Libre, formed as a splinter group from the Liberal party, the equivalent of the Labour Party in the UK. It separated in 2009 after an internal disputes over Mel Zelaya’s removal from power. Members of his own party had a hand in it. Mel Zelaya is still recognised as the face of Libre, and the Nacional party often call into question his links with Nicolas Maduro (and Chavez before he died) in Venezuela, claiming he wants to create a communist state in Honduras. Various Nacionalistas have sent me sources to prove it. But in an age where propaganda flows freely from both sides (Brexit, the UK and US elections being other examples), no one knows quite what to believe. Nonetheless, you can see why the US have thrown its weight behind Juan Orlando, despite his own dubious human rights record.

PAC and Libre joined forces to form Alianza party, with Nasralla fronting the party. He is a populist and flamboyant, with many calling into question his sexuality, which is a big deal for many. However, he has hit a nerve by speaking candidly about corruption and the powers that be. He certainly speaks to the people, and he has a sense of humour to go with it. The one question he has struggled to answer convincingly, though, is how he would govern a country with Mel Zelaya. What would happen when important decisions had to be made? In a recent CNN interview, Nasralla was asked about the view that he was a puppet on a string for Mel Zelaya. He laughed it off. Not very convincingly to many viewers though.

Despite this, by joining forces has been the only way the parties can complete with Juan Orlando.

There is also Luis Zelaya, leader of the Liberal party, which is still running but with a lot less weight. He is more centralist, conventional and less extreme than his competitors. He’s probably the most rational too. But due to lack of funding in his campaign and trust in some of the Liberal congressmen, who have been labelled sell outs to the Nacional agenda, he was always going to finish third.