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, September 12, 2009

Grain, Gold, and Greed: It's Still about Money

It is easy to lose sight of what is behind the Honduran coup, lured by the surface craziness and sometimes cartoon-like behavior of officials of the de facto government. Clearly, there are cultural issues here, class issues here, and the Armed Forces, at least, is really truly concerned to protect the US from communist invasion, it would seem.

But we need to remember that fundamentally, the sparks of polarization between the Zelaya government and the business network behind the coup are economic. Honduran academics, including Leticia Saloman and Miguel Cáceres Rivera, have been great guides on this.

Since the coup, Congress has been employed steadily in approving contracts that benefit the business community. The MCC funding cut off would have funded infrastructure projects benefiting the same community.

While the burn rate of reserve funding, the decline in tourism income, and loss of low-cost energy imports should concern this community, they seem not to be coming to terms with the real impact on their own sources of wealth.

The sale of Honduran grain reserves, reported originally August 21 in pro-coup La Tribuna, is another act of questionable wisdom. When originally advanced, the de facto regime's appointed "Minister" of industry and commerce, Benjamin Bogran, argued that the move would ensure a good price to Honduran producers, clear the way for the new harvest, and keep the grain reserve from deteriorating. Sounds good, right?

Yet one day before, La Tribuna reported that the Honduran Institute for the Agricultural Market had recommended not selling the grain reserves, saying
better to keep it to guarantee the sustenance of the population in case the hurricane season affects the production in the country
But really, do you need to pay any attention to the experts on something like this?

A week later, on August 28, La Tribuna reported the approval of the plan to auction a large part of the grain reserves, again justified by the claim it would benefit everyone. By then IHMA had fallen into line, although the article went to excessive pains to repeat arguments for why selling off the grain reserves was actually good. This included extensive explanation that selling off the reserves would insure agro-business better prices, perhaps giving a glimpse of a primary motivation more convincing than keeping the grains from deteriorating. At the time, marketing grain to Guatemala, El Salvador, and even the US was mentioned.

Now it seems this act of desperation or greed is leading to some disquiet in Honduras, as de facto leader Roberto Micheletti felt compelled today to reassure the Honduran populace that there would be plenty of grain and meat for domestic needs, as his government sells off grain to its desperate neighbor, Guatemala, whose need for basic grains is discussed this week by boz.

Micheletti has also tried to assure the Honduran populace that the price of basic foods needed for individual families would hold steady, which seems really unlikely. The price of this canasta basica familiar was the basis for the raise in minimum wage by President Zelaya last fall. Raising the minimum wage was a major trigger of increased discontent by the business community, fostering their support for the coup.

And now we see how much more the de facto regime can do for its business allies. El Tiempo reports that a new proposed special law would change the basic approach of Honduran labor law, allowing employers to pay hourly wages (instead of daily base pay). These changes, desired by the business community, are supposed to be the key to creating tens of thousands of jobs. The article proposes that, as in the US, people would now be able to have two part-time jobs, as if that was a desireable condition.

But even full-time employment at the minimum wage that Zelaya approved is not enough to pay for 100% of the basic food needs of a family. How much worse will the conditions of the working poor be if they are not even guaranteed a day's pay?

In a country where unemployment is currently at 70%, is more part-time employment in any way an improvement?

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