Living in Honduras and Guatemala is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Saturday, November 23, 2013

May the Best Win

Honduran politics never cease to baffle me. I’m not much into politics, never was, but in Honduras there’s no escape from it. The elections tomorrow hold the whole country in its grip and the tension is rising.

I admit that when I lived in my home country Holland I voted only a few times, because of my lack of interest and confidence in politicians in general. Only when a super right wing party could possibly become a threat would I vote, no so much for any party, but against that particular one. I can’t recall any heated discussions about politics with friends; much less would I jump in the back up of a pick-up truck to wave a political flag or chant, as if that would ever happen in Holland. I don’t know the political preference of many of my friends in Holland and it simply doesn’t matter. Your vote is private business and doesn’t define who you are or what job you have. Even the way we speak about politics is different. Instead of saying: “I’m a liberal” or “I’m a nationalist”, we say: “I’m going to vote for such party”. That’s of course because in Holland there’re many more parties than just the two that have traditionally governed Honduras, but also because a lot of people swing from one party to another each election, depending more on the representatives and political issues of the moment than loyalty to a certain party. Of course there’re political diehards with bumper stickers who’ll vote for one party their whole live, but nothing compared to how things are in Honduras.

For the longest time, upcoming elections meant little less than civil war. Friends tell me that in the early days it was custom to paint light posts and bridges in town either red or blue. The ones who got up early would have first choice, until the whole town had been converted into a red and blue circus. There’s still a bridge in the centre of town called El Puente Azul, although even the faintest traces of blue paint have long since faded. Those were the times when landowners obliged their patrons whom to vote for and even the church would meddle into politics, the priest being an ardent liberal. Discussions about politics often ended in physical fights or wild chases on horses, the nationalists pursuing the liberals or vice versa.

Those days are long gone, but politics still deeply divide a small town as Copán Ruinas. However, things are changing…

One of the biggest differences I see is that people for the first time are not automatically going to vote for the party they’ve always voted for. I remember interviewing people in 2005 for an article about the elections and people would without hesitance tell me who they’d vote for. Actually, most didn’t, they’d just say: “I’m a liberal” or “I’m a nationalist”. If I asked them why they would vote for certain candidate, they just gave me a puzzled look. They’d vote liberal because they are liberal. And they’re liberal because their parents are. And their parents’ parents… Duh! 
I remember going to the offices of both the liberals and nationalists to ask for their party’s policies and vision, but couldn’t get any real information. When I asked why people should vote for their candidate, the answer was: because he’s the best. I got that same answer in both offices, of course. 
But today things are a bit different… People are thinking, watching debates on TV, reading newspapers, weighing different options, discussing, posting on Facebook… I’ve heard some surprising opinions from people I thought were eternally red or blue, others who haven’t made up their mind yet, even with elections only a day away. One of the reasons for this new development is that there are two new parties (Libre and PAC) that have stirred up the traditional balance between red and blue quite a bit. But it’s not only that. There seems to be a new sort of political consciousness, a pride of being able to participate in a democratic process that people are not taking for granted. Let’s hope that that consciousness benefits the democratic process indeed.

On the other hand, while asking around for political opinions, preferences are eerily personal, especially on a local level. More than once I heard: I’m going to vote for such and so for mayor, because the other one has never ever done anything for me. It’s logical that politics in such a small town are a personal affair, but there’s a danger in it too. People tend to think about their own benefit only, not what a certain candidate has done for the community as a whole and what the effect is in the long run. But as a campaign tool, those small personal favors are definitely working.

Well, let’s see what happens tomorrow. At least with two new parties thrown in the game, politics have become a lot more interesting!

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