July 26, 2019
Today the New York Times published an opinion piece by Sonia Nazario, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and our good friend. For those of us who love Honduras, it is not an easy read. The article paints a bracing picture of gang control and corruption within the Honduran health, education, and security sectors and how it affects individual lives in Honduras. Sonia highlights the work of AJS and cites Honduran staff along with AJS board member and former ambassador, James Nealon.
Sonia’s opinion piece comes in response to the recent decision by the US government to cut all aid to Honduras (as well as Guatemala and El Salvador) as an attempt to stem the flow of Hondurans to the US border. She argues that the problems Honduras faces are a result of rampant corruption and if the US wants Honduras to improve, it should support initiatives that combat that corruption – and we agree.
The stories of corruption in the article focus on Nueva Suyapa, the community where we have lived the past 20 years. We know the people Sonia mentions and the struggles they face every day. This is a difficult reality to read, but it is accurate.
Thankfully, it is not the whole story. There is so much good that goes unmentioned – in our neighborhood of Nueva Suyapa and in Honduras as a whole. So many Hondurans are committed to stopping the corruption that is bringing down their country and we see that every day as well.
Kurt and I have a deep and abiding hope that Honduras will one day be a place where all its people flourish. This hope does not come from a place of gullibility or an unwillingness to face facts, but from our experience over the last 20 years working for justice with our Honduran colleagues.
We have hope because God is in control and He is a God who blesses efforts to bring justice where injustice reigns.
We have hope because so many of our Honduran friends and colleagues have not lost hope. People like the bus owner in Sonia’s article who keeps calling the police to catch the gangs who are extorting him, and the overworked mother who keeps showing up at her son’s school to make sure the teachers show up. People like our best friend, Carlos Hernández, who speak truth even to the highest powers of Honduras including President Juan Orlando Hernández.
And, we have hope because we have seen that when people stand up, change happens.
- Omar Rivera and the police purge commission removed over 5,000 corrupt police from a 13,000 member force
- A coordinated and creative effort brought homicide rates down by over 50% in five years and led to the Honduran police adopting AJS’ innovative community-based model for violence reduction
- An AJS outcry over a shady bidding process halted the awarding of a 10-year, $9 million a year medicine contract due to lack of transparency
We have learned a few things in our work in Honduras that help us to hold on to hope even when the news is hard to hear: Lesson one is that when we push forward for justice, those who are abusing power will push back. That pushback comes through in Sonia’s reporting and perhaps signals that we have started to make some positive change. Second, change is fragile and we must stand vigilant to protect and build on the progress we make.
Now is the time to sustain change, to continue to stand with brave Hondurans who are fighting daily to make Honduras a better place. Sonia’s piece mentioned the threats to AJS funding, due to the cuts of US government aid, and the need to continue AJS’s work. Will you consider a gift to support us and to stand with Hondurans in this crucial time?
Kurt Ver Beek and Jo Ann Van Engen