Monday, February 1, 2010

Cultural diversity and the Ministry of Culture

Bernard Martinez Valerio, former presidential candidate for the PINU-SD party, was selected by Porfirio Lobo Sosa to be the new Minister of Culture in Honduras.

Martinez, a self-identified Afrohonduran and Garifuna, began his career as an environmental health worker and quickly rose to head a section of the medical workers union, first in Trujillo, then in La Ceiba. He has held positions in the Organización de Desarrollo Étnico Comunitario (ODECO), a non-profit that works for social, political, economic, and cultural development of Afrohondurans, traditionally marginalized in Honduran society and politics. ODECO was among the many organizations in Honduras that denounced the June 28 coup d'etat.

Following a history of exclusion of Afrohondurans from politics, Martinez is somewhat exceptional. In 1996, the same year he began working for ODECO, he became an activist in the PINU-SD party. The Partido de Innovación y Unidad Social Democratica defines itself as dedicated to making each individual the "owner of his own destiny", with a platform that calls for national unity, respect for private property, and development of the agricultural and agro-industrial sector, and for the unity of the population based on the family.

In 2004 Martinez became PINU party president, with a term lasting through 2006. In 2009 he was selected as the PINU-SD party's candidate for president, and came in third in the November election, with less than 2 percent of the total vote.

Pofirio Lobo Sosa had already announced that he would appoint all the former presidential candidates to positions in his "reconciliation" government when ODECO requested Lobo Sosa appoint some Afrohondurans to high ranking positions in his government, claiming previous governments had ignored them. The appointment of Martinez thus fulfills two goals for the Lobo Sosa administration.

When Martinez assumed the post he became the highest ranking Afrohonduran ever to serve in the national government, a distinction previously held by Lic. Salvador Suazo, Viceminister of Culture under the Zelaya administration. Salvador Suazo is the author of the book De Saint Vincent a Roatan: Un resumen etnohistorica Garifuna, among others, and at the time of his removal from office by the de facto regime in 2009, he was working on a Garifuna dictionary.

It will be interesting to see what steps Martinez, who the Honduran press represented as the "Barack Obama" of Honduras after he won the PINU presidential nomination-- an identification he disclaimed-- takes in his new-found role as Minister of Culture, where he succeeds the historian Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle.


Carina said...

In years past Honduras has had Afro-Honduran served as her Ambassador to other countries. Not sure how such a position compares in rank to a Minister of Culture, but it is a noteworthy position nonetheless. Afro-Hondurans are not all that well represented in politics at the regional levels in the country so it is not terribly surprising that they have not been cabinet members in the past.

Zornorph said...

I'm curious about the term Afro-Hondurans. It's not one I had encountered before and I was wondering what term is used for black people in Honduras (in Spanish, obviously.) Where I live (the Bahamas) the majority population (which is black) would get angry if you called them Afro-Bahamian. Is it different where blacks are in the minority? Or is this just an American convention?

BTW, great blog - glad to see it up and running and I've bookmarked it.

RNS said...

Zornorph, Its not an American convention. In this case, Afrohonduran is a direct translation into English of the Spanish term "afrohondureño" and I used it because that's the word the ODECO website used to describe its constituency.

This is not to say its a common word in conversation about race in Honduras, however, where terms like "negro", "trigueño" and some pejorative words are more common ("negro de batey" for example, the term the golpista Foreign Minister Ortez Colindres used for President Obama which I will not translate because it is offensive; the translations published by the US press at the time it was uttered are wrong). "Afrohondureño" is a more common word to find in scholarly articles looking at the diverse roots of the black populations in Honduras.

Bernard Martinez talked about racism in Honduras in one of his interviews in La Tribuna run when he was a presidential candidate.