Monday, August 9, 2010

"Collective memory" at risk: On moving the Honduran National Archives

It is easy, we have noted, to lose sight of the economic effects of the coup in the face of the horse race about politics of OAS recognition. And it is equally easy to forget the profound negative effect the coup and its continuing aftermath has had on Honduran culture.

After the coup d'etat of June 28, 2009, the appointment of Mirna Castro by the de facto regime to take over administration of the Ministry of Culture led to a series of developments that drew widespread outrage from artists, scholars, and writers in Honduras: denunciation of book distribution programs, firing of well-qualified office holders for political reasons, the infamous argument that, in a country with as high a level of economic stratification as Honduras, funding fashion design events was appropriate because fashion was culture, and more.

One of the more disturbing incidents was the proposal to provide space for a military reservists organization in a national monument, the old presidential palace, which also serves as the home to a unified national library and archives facility. The opposition carefully presented to this move by then-director of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, Dr. Dario Euraque, himself a noted historian and university professor in the United States, while staving off this misuse, contributed to the animosity that led to his removal from office.

With the transition to the Lobo Sosa government, a new minister of culture, the former presidential candidate of a small party, Bernard Martinez, was appointed. A few days ago a PDF copy of a letter from Martinez to the Director of the national gallery of art was widely circulated. In it, Martinez asks for space in that museum for the documentary archives, arguing that the ministry was experiencing severe space needs that, implicitly, were more important than housing and providing access to these irreplaceable historical records.

Then today, an "Open letter" directed to Minister Martinez circulated, signed by both Dr. Euraque and the former minister of culture, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle. They open with a paragraph summing up their reactions to the proposal:
We want to make known to you that on proceeding according the cited letter, you will commit a grave administrative error, and an attempt against the Ley del Patrimonio Cultural de la Nación (Law of the Cultural Patrimony of the Nation), perhaps worse than those that the Attorney Myrna Castro committed when she functioned as Secretary of Culture, Arts, and Sports. And if you proceed as anticipated, the Prosecutor for the Patrimony will have to take action in the matter.

The signatories, both historians recognized internationally for the research as well as experienced administrators, argue that "The National Historic Archive is the patrimony of the Hondurans, principal reservois of their collective memory" and should only be moved, as it was in their administration, after serious study of the advantages for curating and providing access to the resources it represents.

They outline a well-documented process of consultation which obviously has not taken place before the current proposal, which seeks simply to remove the archives to make more space--for what is unclear-- in a national historic monument. They note that the building occupied as an art museum does not even belong to the Ministry of Culture: it belongs in equal parts to the UNAM and the National Congress, and was made available only for the purpose of being an art gallery.

And, as they note, the art gallery is inappropriate anyway:
Nor does the building that houses the National Gallery serive for the simple reason that there does not exist the necessary space to consult and conserve the National Archive there.

The National Archive was essentially rescued from neglect by being rehoused in a modern Center for Historical Documents, with computer facilities and space for study of the collection, under the administration of Euraque and Pastor Fasquelle. And for what reason would such a project be proposed?

In their letter, Euraque and Pastor Fasquelle imply that the purpose is to use the Old Presidential Palace for general office functions of the ministry. This, they note, would endanger the historical structure of that building as much as the archives would be endangered by being shifted to inadequate and inappropriate space. They write:
It is a National Monument (since 1989) that should breathe an air of culture, of esthetics, and not the hustle and bustle of the bureaucratic administration of the Ministry of Culture or any other branch of the State. For that reason, the "technical record" of its registry [as a national monument] classifies its use as "cultural".

Noting that caring for this historic structure is part of the mission of the Institute of Anthropology and History, they go on to say
Lamentably, the present maximal authority of IHAH, imposed under the administration of Abodaga Castro, totally lacks the experience or knowledge of these needs to collaborate in this sense [of guarding the historic character and fabric of the building]. In whatever way, the Prosecutor of Patrimony should monitor the actions of the present Manager of the IHAH in relation to this decision of his to move the National Archive to the National Gallery.

The authors make a special plea to Minister Martinez "not to make the same mistakes" as Mirna Castro, especially by disrupting the nascent historical research center that was formed during the Zelaya administration.

The question is, have the factors that made cultural analysis of history and identity of the nation in the broadest sense victims of Mirna Castro changed with the installation of the Lobo Sosa administration? Refraining from abusing the National Archives would be one way to show a less hostile cultural policy.

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