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.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What does "culture" mean to the de facto regime?

Having rid herself of the burden of having internationally renowned scholars and writers as directors of the institutions that make up the core of the Ministry of Culture, Mirna Castro is now at liberty to show her critics what she thinks the mission of the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Sports should be.

Selected by the regime of Roberto Micheletti to try to fill the shoes of Honduran historian and Minister of Culture Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, Castro has been roundly criticized by Honduran artists and intellectuals for her denunciation of book distribution to the indigenous, african-descendant, and rural people of the country, who she described as "vulnerable" to dangerous ideas. She has been the subject of parody, including a campaign to donate books for her education-- a solicitation specifying children's books as appropriate for her assumed ignorance.

It may be that the cutting treatment she has received from the writers and artists of Honduras is unfair. Perhaps she is secretly an intellectual. But her own words make clear that she misunderstands the mission of the ministry over which she currently holds sway; and her recent actions surpass any parody that the most creative Honduran writers could invent.

In an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ms. Castro argued that her internationally condemned dismissal of Honduran historian, Dr. Darío Euraque, was justified:
He was indifferent [to Copan], and due to the economic crisis, tourism started to decline... It was his job to manage, and he wasn't fulfilling his job. [emphasis added]
Dr. Euraque is the legally appointed Director of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History. That is a scholarly institute whose mission, defined in its original founding law in 1952, was "the exploration, restoration, conservation and vigilance of archaeological monuments, the improvement of the organization and administration of museums, the study of history, etc." [Founding decree of IHAH, Acuerdo 245, July 22, 1952].

The mission of the IHAH was further defined in the Ley Organica del IHAH, Decreto 118 of 1968:
Article 5: The Institute has as its goal the defense, exploration, conservation, restoration, repair, recovery, growth, and scientific investigation of the archaeological, anthropological, historic and artistic treasures of the nation, as well as places of natural beauty and typical places.
In 1997, Decreto 220-97 restated the same mission of defense, rescue, restoration, protection, investigation, sharing of information, growth and transmission to future generations of what now is officially the Cultural Patrimony of the Nation.

The development of tourism, not mentioned in the 1997 Law, is the work of the aptly named Honduran Institute of Tourism (IHT), part of an entirely different ministry.

IHAH's job was and is to encourage the development of knowledge about the Cultural Patrimony, and its preservation.

Which brings us to Ms. Castro's current program of cultural activities, using the museums administered by IHAH and the budget of which she has systematically deprived existing programs of research, publication, and development of museums, to creatively expand the legal definition of culture to activities with which she is more comfortable.

It's Fashion Week in Honduras! and the Ministry of Culture is one of the patrons, to the tune of 100,000 lempiras, as reported in the social pages of pro-coup newspapers and the website Vos el Soberano.

Ms. Castro has been quoted as saying of her funding, offered so that Honduran designers would exploit designs from the cultural patrimony
This initiative was to recover national identity, and not only history, archaeology, Copan were culture, but also fashion.
Chapter IV, Article 23 of the Law of the IHAH is actually concerned with the use of cultural patrimony for the purpose of making a profit, not to mention the active debates world-wide about the appropriation of cultural heritage in trivial ways and the issues it raises about the intellectual property rights in such things.

An article published in El Heraldo documenting a cocktail reception held at the museum of the history of the republic housed in the historic presidential mansion, Villa Roy, to celebrate the signing of the agreement to sponsor Fashion Week, quotes Castro as reiterating her innovative claim that fashion is one of the key forms of cultural patrimony:
It is to open spaces for those young people that are beginning to enter design. Fashion is an industry but it is also part of the culture of the people and for that reason it is important to support this type of events.
As a participant in this form of authentic Honduran culture, Exhibit A: Mirna Castro (right)

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