Tegucigalpa, Honduras—We arrived in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa sometime in the evening of February 8. At the time, I had barely slept in three days and it was starting to show. 72 hours earlier, we had boarded a red eye for Mexico City. Then it was 24 hours in Mexico, one cancelled flight, one tedious stop-over, and a perfect landing in Tegucigalpa–not a sure thing, we were told.
It is now the evening of February 10 and I’m starting to feel like I know where I am. I imagine that Tegucigalpa is the kind of capital that needs to grow on people. Its vibrancy strikes you at once; it is colourful and the colonial architecture is reminiscent of Old Havana, the people laugh often and the taxi drivers are quick to point out their favourite spots. But Tegus–as the locals call it–is also the kind of city for which you are often warned about the crime, where many of the streets are quiet not long after nightfall, and where it is poor.
I had landed in the country with a small group of British Columbian journalists. We are the 2009 recipients of a Jack Webster Foundation fellowship that supports international reporting.
With a mandate to research development issues, some of us travelled to the town of Choluteca, about two hours south of the capital. There, we saw President Manuel Zelaya, speak to a select crowd of thousands who were due to receive “bonuses” from the government.
It was all part of Zelaya’s “Solidarity Network” program, we were told. With the goals of raising people out of poverty and improving health in the country, many were receiving monetary bonuses for their work in education, health or a variety of other fields. (At this point, it might be worth noting that the left-wing government is scheduled to face a national election on November 29, 2009.) Technical assistance and training programs were also launched with the Solidarity Network.
The president was visiting a different rural village every week and handing out these bonuses. On the day we visited, the government was giving 33.2 million lempira to 15,438 families in Choluteca.
The minister of the Solidarity Network is Fernando Garcia. Shortly before the president took the stage, he told us that an estimated 600,000 Honduran families live in what the government categorizes as extreme poverty. Honduras’s population is only between seven and eight million. This means that if the minister’s definition of extreme poverty is the same as the World Bank’s, something like 40 percent of the country lives on less than $1.25 a day.
One day later and back in Tegus, I found myself still wanting to get to know the city and finally with a few hours of down time. I took the opportunity to go for a long walk.
Its about eight blocks from my hotel to the three bridges that separate the twin cities–Comayaguela and Tegucigalpa–that comprise the capital. Garbage fills much of the space beneath these bridges; hawkers crowd the sidewalks, selling everything from plastic cups to condoms; and damaged or unfinished buildings line the water on either side.
Walking across the largest bridge, I wound my way through merchants’ negotiations and minded my step around barefoot children. The far side of town seemed considerably poorer than where I was staying. There was more trash in the gutters, the streets were narrower, and the bananas were not as ripe.
Nobody talked to me much on my walk. Returning to the hotel, I stopped at a park bench outside one of the city’s larger cathedrals. As I watched young children chasing pigeons, a woman offered me tortillas for a reasonable price. I told her I didn’t need any and she smiled at me.
Travis Lupick was in Honduras as a recipient of the Seeing the World Through New Eyes fellowship, funded by the Jack Webster Foundation and CIDA.
Read more stories from his trip:
Doctored crops stir Latin American debate (April 16, 2009)
B.C. aid helps Honduran kids (March 26, 2009)
Exploring Peru in the shadow of the financial crisis (February 17, 2009)
Discovering "mass food production" in Honduras (February 13, 2009)
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.