Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"An Authentic Cultural Inquisition": A statement by Helen Umaña

Helen Umaña wrote and circulated the Spanish original of the following translated statement decrying ideological attacks on the employees of the constituent parts of the Secretariat of Culture in Honduras, on July 23. An internationally prominent author, she calls public attention to the notorious failure to understand the Secretariat of Culture by the de facto regime's appointed placeholder there, Mirna Castro.

Castro is equally indicted by her own words in a YouTube video-- denouncing the distribution of books throughout the country to populations she describes as "vulnerable", a disturbingly patronizing word to use to describe the afro-caribbean Garifuna and indigenous peoples. Especially ironic when one of the first changes the coup regime brought to the Secretariat of Culture was the dismissal of the first Garifuna Vice Minister of that Secretariat, Salvador Suazo, who is in the process of producing a unique dictionary of the Garifuna language.

The same person is responsible for the widely reported threat to violate international conventions on the protection of cultural property in times of military conflict, as well as Honduran law, by approving the use of a Honduran National Monument for a cadre of military reservists.

The facts, and others Helen Umaña comments on-- including many previously noted here-- should produce international outrage.

Crimes against Culture

Helen Umaña

From an anthropological point of view, the term "culture" refers to all manifestations of material life (planting maize, for example) and spiritual life (writing a poem, devising a scientific theory, or frawing a protest graffiti) of a specified community. We live and we breathe, then, within a specific and singular culture that marks our way of proceeding: taste for specific foods; parameters to evaluate a film or a song; manner of dressing; preference for specific sports, etc. It provides us, then, a kind of seal or badge that identifies us or individualizes us in the face of others. In the case of Honduras, as well, we have to speak of a multicultural reality.

But speaking in general terms, culture is linked unfailingly to the concept of national identity. That is, not as a closed or finished condition, but as a process: something that always is enriched or is renewed. Including, that is deteriorated or destroyed (the Spanish conquest annihilated, mutilated or changed the culture of the indigenous peoples: the Lenca, for example, lost their language and with it, vital aspects of their world view).

It is self-evident, then, the importance that the Ministry of Culture has in the life of a nation. The formulation and putting into practice of programs destined to conserve and enrich the spiritual wealth of the country depends precisely on its policies. Only clumsy politicians disparage the function of the intellectual and affective mortar that artistic, literary, and other works represent for the people. For this reason, when a government cabinet is named, persons are chosen to “direct” it who must fulfill some political or personal commitment but who, in cultural phenomena, ignore the most basic elements.

The de facto regime, in addition to the great blunder with the naming of its first Chancellor (he of the celebrated phrases, pearls of Honduran diplomacy, like the racist phrase directed at Obama), is giving another example of the intellectual level of its functionaries. In a recent appearance, Mirna Castro, brand-new minister of “culture” – of unknown resume in scientific, artistic, or literary subject matter – in front of television cameras of the world, showed that never in her life has she opened a book: she condemned as subversive fundamental works in the literary heritage of the country.

Probably, as Juan de Zumárraga and Diego de Landa did when they burned invaluable indigenous codices, she will soon organize a great pyre with the works of "indoctrination", such as the following: Memorias y apuntes de viaje, Todos los cuentos and Anecdotario hondureño by Froylán Turcios; Soy extranjero y ando de paso by José Roy Castro; Estampas de Honduras by Doris Stone (daughter of Samuel Zemurray, banana magnate); Honduras by Luis Mariñas Otero; La inconformidad del hombre by Alfonso Guillén Zelaya; La heredad by Marcos Carías Reyes (nephew and secretary of General Tiburcio Carías Andino); Mundo de cubos by Nelson Merren; Obra poética escogida de sus manuscritos by José Antonio Domínguez; Panorama de la poesía hondureña by Óscar Castañeda Batres; Soñaba el abad de San Pedro soñaba y yo también sé soñar by José Cecilio del Valle; Sueños de Merce by Mercedes Agurcia Membreño, and many other titles of similar lineage and of recent publication. Perhaps the dictionary of Honduran authors by José González can explain to her who those “dangerous” authors were, that undoubtedly delighted many of our fathers and grandfathers.

The preceding is, truly, laughable and equivalent to the celebrated phrases of Dr. Enrique Ortez Colindres. If these books are destroyed or confiscated, they can all be replaced in future editions. The most serious issue lies in other decisions that directly affect the historical patrimony of the country. So, she contemplates assigning the Honduran Documentary Center for Historical Research (where the newspapers and documents fundamental to scientific investigators and the general public interested in the theme are kept) to the Military Reservists so that they can set up a center of military operations. If action is not taken rapidly (and a call to UNESCO is imperative), soon, the Hemeroteca and the National Archive could be victims of a looting and destruction without precedents. For members (visible or invisible) of the de facto government it is urgent to "erase" irrefutable proofs of a not-very-clean recent past. It isn't an accident that one of the first actions of Sra. Castro was the firing of the historian Natalie Roque Sandoval, zealous guardian of this cultural patrimony.

Also, within this ominous policy of razing Honduran culture, is inscribed the recent firing of the Director of The Book and the Document, Lic. Rebeca Becerra, one of the poets with the greatest expressive force in present-day Latin American poetry. She carried out a distinguished editorial labor and is responsible for the publication of books like those mentioned. The “Death to the intelligentsia!” war cry of all the Fascists that there have been in the world, begins to resonate in the halls of government.

Black clouds are hanging, as well, around the Cultural Houses, accused, by the uninformed minister, of being centers that damage the country because the unholy shadow of Hugo Chavez is cast over them. Fortunately, they are located in cities of the interior of the country and each community knows what acts have been carried out under its protective eaves (presentation of books; painting workshops; film showings; reading clubs…). In other words, they know how to detect the magnitude of the official lie.

With grief, we observe that Honduras has entered an obscurantist stage whose precedents go back to the notorious decade of the 1980s. The de facto government, in cultural matters, has thrown overboard the progress achieved during the two terms of Dr. Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle at the head of the Ministry of Culture. In this respect, it is enough to cite the praiseworthy work, applauded internationally, of the Institute of Anthropology and History, directed by Dr. Darío Euraque. Let's not deceive ourselves. Unholy signs like those noted indicate that we are in the shadows of an authentic cultural inquisition.

San Pedro Sula, Honduras 23 July, 2009

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