Monday, September 13, 2010

Debts to Culture in San Pedro Sula

Patricia Murillo Gutierrez, Professor of Journalism at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras campus in San Pedro Sula, writing in El Tiempo last Monday, questioned a proposal by a city official for San Pedro, the second-largest city in Honduras, to renege on its commitments to helping subsidize public cultural institutions.

She begins
We citizens would like to know the logic that moved the Nationalist Party regidor Reinaldo Rouglas, to take the initiative to suspend the support that by law the city should pass on to institutions of cultural formation such as the Children's Cultural Center, the Museum of Anthropology and History, the Museum of Natural History and the Music School "Victoriano Lopez", among others. It seems that it is the logic of "economy" (we do not want to believe that it is contempt for learning) that is ruling to "rationalize" the action by the Nationalist since the bankrupt municipality can give no more and Rouglas affirms that it cannot continue subsidizing cultural institutions and that they should seek to support themselves.

It is almost like passing to the market, to the highest bidder (that equally can be money badly gained) the constitutional obligation that the State has, the municipalities have, to support the holistic development of the governed.

Murillo expresses a vision of the role of the State which, while being constitutionally mandated in Honduras, has lost traction steadily throughout the coup and its aftermath.

One of the programs at issue in the proposal to cut off funds for public cultural institutions is the continued access of 300 children who currently attend the Centro Cultural Infantil (Children's Cultural Center, CCI). Murillo notes that the funds the city of San Pedro is supposed to provide-- 83,000 lempiras a month, a little more than $4600-- are less than the salary of a regidor, a pointed comparison given that this is the office held by Reinaldo Rouglas, who is leading the charge to cut off funding for culture.

News coverage of Rouglas' proposal includes a significant clarification: the CCI is actually a municipal institution, and its 17 employees, who have not been paid their full salary for 18 months, are not simply being subsidized by the city.

There are hints of more to this proposal than simply a belt-tightening by a governmental philistine. The head of the executive committee of the CCI, Aníbal Castellanos, is quoted as saying that "the intention of the mayor's office is to take advantage of the building to install an academy of art".

The suggestion that the city government actually has a plan to substitute a different arts organization for the CCI emerged in an editorial published in La Prensa on August 28 as well. Noting that the 83,000 lempiras split among 18 employees (apparently counting the director of the center in addition to the 17 employees mentioned in more recent coverage) is less than many people earn individually, the unnamed editorialist goes on to ask
Does the mayor's office have a special project to substitute for the CCI? The pupils, boys and girls, of the Centro Cultural Infantil in their majority pertain to the middle and lower classes, and cannot invest, for example, 800 lempiras monthly to take art education in a private school. Will the present municipal administration give the final death blow to this small, but vital center of artistic formation? Only insensibility and lack of humanistic upbringing could guide the commission of an act of this kind.

Murillo sees the proposal to abandon support of the CCI and other institutions serving San Pedro Sula as part of a general abandonment of governmental support for "cultura popular", that is, public access to cultural activities, rationalized with economic arguments but by no means justified by them.

Speaking from the perspective of someone who has watched San Pedro Sula struggle for more than thirty years to develop public cultural institutions that are vital parts of the urban fabric today, the short-sighted nature of cutting off the modest funding that supports these activities is deeply troubling.

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