Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Department 19: A new political player in Honduras?

Over the past few months, a new phrase has cropped up repeatedly in postings from the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular: Departamento 19.

I knew what it indexed right away, because (among other things) I was on a PhD dissertation committee that introduced me to El Salvador's attempt to reincorporate Salvadorans living in the US in post-civil war politics and culture, as a 15th political division outside the boundaries of the national territory.

After reading the latest notice that mentioned the representation of Hondurans abroad as a new, 19th department, I wondered when and how this became a political reality?

Resistencia, the official web site of the FNRP, first mentions Department 19 on November 22, 2010, in an article about increasing the size of its representative assembly, including adding four delegates "of Hondurans who live outside the country".

On November 24, 2010, Vos el Soberano carried an update called "Camino al Constituyente" that seems to be the first mention of representation for Hondurans abroad on that site, in an interview with a Los Angeles based resistance member.

On January 19 of this year, in its coverage leading up to the February 26 Asamblea of the FNRP, Vos el Soberano published an entire article about how Departamento 19 would be well represented in the assembly. This report includes the entire document formalizing participation by Department 19 in the FNRP's political assembly, starting with a description of the composition of delegates:
In general terms, 17 delegates were approved for the so-called Departamento 19 (12 for the US, 3 for Spain, 1 for Canada and 1 for France) with the possibility of being augmented in a future national assembly.
And then came a post-Assembly report by Gerardo Torres Zelaya, that included the news that in the interim assembly, Carlos Mejía from California and Lucy Pagoada of New York represented this bloc.

Contained in Torres Zelaya's report is a statement that claims a higher significance for Department 19 than merely representation:
D19 is more than a territorial expression and has turned into one of the principal symbols of the will of an entire people to refound their country and has demonstrated that when we are speaking of struggle, frontiers are obsolete.

So where did the idea come from in the first place? Is it inherently, as Torres Zelaya suggests in this quote, revolutionary?

The earliest mention I can find for this concept, using Google, is an essay by a Honduran poet, Fabricio Estrada, called Broza de esmeril first published in February 2008. In November 2008, Estrada republished it on his own blog under the slightly revised title Brozas de esmeril, Honduras (roughly, an emery brush-- a brush that grinds).

This version includes the striking image I link to here, which embeds a map of the US inside the territory of Honduras (credited at the original site to Hugo Bautista). The text accompanying this map vividly summarizes facts which together demonstrate the potential significance of Hondurans in the US in Honduran politics. In a preface to his essay, Estrada wrote that
In the beginning, I created this proclamation or manifesto, believing in a "Paíspoesible" [a pun: poetically possible country], but given the boisterous failure of this collective proposal...I reclaim the words that are still valid beyond elitism and pawing in which has ended what originally was a revolutionary vision, a generational revolution, dream, fist, prodigy of the brotherhood among cannibal poets, an esthetic that overflowed the confinement of ego..."

What follows is a description of the situation of being a poet in Honduras in a time when with the internet "no one lives regionally".

Included in this essay, which takes the form of a numbered list, reflecting, among other things, on Honduras as a territorial entity and as a state of identity (see my translation of items 5 and 8 at the end of this post). Estrada critiques the fragmented historical identity of territorial Honduras, each part except Tegucigalpa, the capital city, yearning for a geographic other; and even the framing of Honduras as patria in Tegucigalpa the poet sees as a mystical illusion.

He ends his vision of fragmented identity by saying "that is without speaking of all that country in transit in Department 19".

So for more than two years before the FNRP took it up as a real entity, the idea that Honduras has the equivalent of a 19th state made up of the Honduran diaspora was already circulating in they cultural imaginary, specifically as part of writing that challenged the coherence of the nation-state as the grounding of identity.

The term seems to be used sparingly in economic writing over the last two years; for example, an editorial by sociologist Ricardo Puerta about guest workers programs, published online by Proceso Digital, unfortunately undated but on internal grounds from the first half of 2010, includes this description:
The so-called "Departamento 19" of the new Honduran nation, in "this globalized era of information", will continue being relevant at the macro and micro levels, for the desired local, regional, and national economic revival that is sought, and has not begun to arrive. A product of that, the Department 18, better characterized as "the Department with the growth growing for lack of generalized welfare", today already counts a total estimated population of 1.5 million compatriots, "scattered throughout the world", that represents almost 20% of all those born in Honduras and that can be found living within or outside of Honduras.

An article in May 2010 in Proceso Digital on extending access to the national public health system to Hondurans in the US (allowing them to pay into the system for the benefit of their family members in Honduras) used "Departamento 19" but followed it immediately with a gloss (los connacionales en el exterior, "those who share nationality living abroad"), indicating that it is by no means in wide use or of automatically recognized meaning.

The language of a 19th department was there to be taken up by political actors. But it has not been uniquely associated with a revolutionary vision. In fact, the largest cluster of references to it, prior to the recent surge in its use by the Frente, comes from the Nationalist Party.

Already in October 2009, Honduran media used the term in covering Pepe Lobo's "satisfaction" with support from Hondurans living in Miami. This coverage made reference to the "leadership" of the Nationalist Party in "Department 19". Just last week, coverage of the lead-up to the Nationalist Party convention, under the slogan of "Nationalists united for Honduras, underlined the inclusion of Hondurans abroad:
“We have invited the 1000 attendees from the 18 departments as well as those of department 19 that symbolically represent the Hondurans resident in the US".

The contrasts between the two political groups in their approach to Department 19 are subtle: the Nationalist Party describes this as a symbolic gesture, and recognizes only Hondurans in the US; the FNRP is adding representatives porportional to the estimated residents abroad, from the four countries with the largest Honduran expatriate populations.

What the inclusion of Department 19 in texts from the extreme right to the left, from sociology to poetry, says overall is that we are seeing the emergence of a new consciousness of the global Honduran diaspora.

Salvador's Departamento 15 has become, in the analysis of Ana Patricia Rodriguez, Associate Professor of Spanish at the University of Maryland, a medium for the creation of a trans-national "salvadoranness" in its disaporic community, mobilized by post-civil war Salvadoran politics. Will Honduras see something similar in the wake of the political upheaval begun by the coup d'etat?

From Brozas de esmeril:

5- W live in Honduras, we assume it and that is what leads to us avoiding putting together $5,000 and going with a trustworthy coyote to the north. For one reason or another, Honduras retains us, it is an earthy, precambrian magnetism, full of contraries and premonitions... and nonetheless, we can bet what remains to us whether any Latin American wouldn't feel the same. We are in continual formation, this existential mobility is a beautiful broth, unstable, but definitely it is our essence. We look at the State from a position of mockery, everyone knows it, not even we ourselves believe in the task of national conformation, and nonetheless we intuit a country of the mind, much more open and grand than the anachronistic limits suggested by jurists in The Hague. Our country is a steppe and we are its untiring horses!

8-Honduras is a ball of steel wool... an emery brush... the fruit of the knives that Rubén Izaguirre visualized by means of his poetics... Honduras is attracted and dismembered from four historic magentic poles: those of the coast dream that in New Orleans there still live their patron-bosses, the gringo banana men who gave them keepsakes from La Lima to Olanchito.

Those of the Mosquitia still walk intoxicated with their Misquito Empire and their toasts continue giving halleluias for Queen Victoria of England.

Those of the East live buying and selling cheeses in Nicaragua... those of the West consider that they are an extension of Guatemala and those of the Southwest play with El Salvador. Only in Tegucigalpa does there survive a mystical Honduras, made visionary by the word "patria"; and that is without speaking of all that country in transit in Department 19.

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