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.

Friday, September 18, 2009

History is Dangerous

Cultural policy, we have noted, is also economic policy. The work of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia over the last three years successfully engaged funding from the US, Spain, and the UN, whose losses we calculated in a previous post.

But money doesn't tell the whole story of what has been lost in the takeover of the Ministry of Culture by the de facto regime, and their dismissal of the Director of the Institute. A closer look at the nature of the projects that have now been suspended gives insight into the priorities of the coup regime by showing us what they do not think is worth supporting, or even think is so dangerous to the status quo and the maintenance of power by a small elite that they merited removing the main advocate for these projects from his office.

The cancelled initiatives, in their breadth and scope, also give insight into the depth of civic engagement and public participation encouraged by policies of the Zelaya administration.

Notably, many of the projects now deprived of funding involved bringing together local stakeholders, community and regional historians, and potential cultural resource guardians, providing them with training in how to undertake historical research, and engaging them with the projected opening of new museums and cultural parks located throughout the country.

The IHAH document reports that after training 256 people
about Cultural patrimony and national identity seen from the point of view of civic participation
the disruption caused by the de facto regime has led to cancellation of programs intended to train an additional 35 participants.

What the bare numbers cannot capture is what these workshops were like. At those I participated in during the month of June, a mixture of people from across the country, including from the distant, difficult to reach watershed of the Rio Patuca in Eastern Honduras, people recognized by their communities as having greater historical perspective mingled with high school students and others interested in learning more about archaeological and historical sites that were or might be the targets of tourist visitation. Given the chance to hear from the acknowledged experts in the long-term histories of these places, workshop participants were connected with international and national scholars, and encouraged to ask their own questions about history in the places where they lived.

The point, in the words of Dr. Darío Euraque, dismissed by the illegitimate government from his post as Director of the Institute at the beginning of this month, was to encourage the production of "textured histories" by the people themselves. Encouraged to use photographs, gravestones, and other local resources for their research, these citizens offered the chance to participate in the work of creating national history were also to have been the beneficiaries of the most ambitious project of the Institute: the Documentary Center for Historic Investigations of Honduras (CDIHH).

What happened to this unparalleled historical research center in the wake of the coup is the topic of the next post in this series that explores precisely how the de facto regime works to destroy advances in civil society and broader political participation. But that will have to wait for another day.

Translation of relevant portion of the IHAH statement of suspended projects (see future posts for other sections):

III. Programs of historical and ethnohistorical studies, and their registry.

Without doubt the II Encuentro de Historiadores (encounter of local and regional historians) planned for the month of October in Catacamas, Department of Olancho, under the responsibility of the History Unit of IHAH, in the care of Lic. Yesenia Martinez, will be suspended. This program was to have been made up of 40 students of the history of Honduras coming from 13 departments of Honduras. The suspension of this program will affect their projects of publication. The approximate budget destined for the II Encuentro de Historiadores in Catacamas, Olancho, is 150,000 lempiras.

The antecedents of this congress programmed for Catacamas go back to a first encounter of local and regional historians that was carried out in May 2008 in the Antigua Casa Presidencial and under the patronage of IHAH and the coordination of its History Unit. Later, in March of that year, the History Unit of IHAH organized a Workshop of Training in Methodology for Historic Research intended for the participants in the congress realized in Tegucigalpa in 2008. This Workshop, carried out by petition of the local historians of almost all the departments of Honduras, took place in the Museum of Anthropology and History in San Pedro Sula. At the same time, a special visit to the Municipal Historic Archives in the care of Lic. Eliseo Fajardo was carried out.

Various of the participants in these congresses and workshops in 2008 and the beginning of 2009 participated in another program that will be suspended, that of the training of Cultural Resource Guardians. This is a program of training about Cultural patrimony and national identity seen from the point of view of civic participation. Up until now 256 men and women have been trained on a national level, including from the banks of the Rio Patuca in the Mosquitia. Due to the lack of recognition of the authorities imposed since the 28th of June, a workshop for 35 cultural resource guardians for the site of Yarumela and its vicinity with the Museum of Comayagua, in the care of Lic. Miriam Zapata, has been cancelled. It was cancelled in process by the IHAH because the funds negotiated come from UNESCO, with a value of almost 90,000 lempiras.

These and other Cultural Resource Guardians work as a database of the cultural patrimony of the nation. One of the projects affected by the international repudiation of the new authorities of IHAH concerns an effort negotiated by the Registry and Control Unit of IHAH, financed by funds of the State Department of the US. The amount approved for this project is $31,288 (dollars). This has a duration of one year. Up until now, barely 33% has been executed. The Embassy of the US has carried only one disbursal of the three that were to be carried out had it not been suspended.

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