Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview with Bernard Martinez, the Accidental Minister of Culture

Bernard Martinez, Minister of Culture in the Lobo Sosa government, was interviewed by a reporter for Tiempo as part of his promotion of a campaign to decentralize cultural activity in Honduras. While questions about this were part of the story, so were a number of less comfortable questions for Martinez, whose tenure at the Ministry of Culture has been less than distinguished.

He was one of the ministers called to task for a lack of transparency in his ministry. His proposal to move the National Archives into inadequate space not even controlled by the ministry, in order to install some part of his enterprise in offices in the historic presidential palace building, was widely decried by Honduran intellectuals. The union of the ministry petitioned him a year ago to remove from office Virgilio Paredes, appointed head of the Institute of Anthropology and History by Mirna Castro in her last weeks controlling the ministry for the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti. He notably claimed that one of his vice ministers, Godofredo Fajardo, tried to pressure him into resigning in his favor, shortly after the union lodged a series of accusations of misuse of funds.

So what does Minister Martinez have to say for himself? Here's the interview; see for yourself first, then we will follow with a post drawing out some of the implications beyond the obvious ones.

Tiempo: How and from whom came the idea of your naming as minister of Culture?

Martinez: It was a question that president Lobo asked me about where I wanted to serve in his government. And once I decided to participate I spoke about the topic of culture and then he decided to place me here.

Tiempo: Did you have any time before your naming an interest in working for culture?

Martinez: No that was born after the political campaign. The Garifuna community, of which I am a member, is a community that contributes a lot culturally, and that was what led me to think of the Secretariat of Culture.

Tiempo: The principal argument, then, to self-nominate as secretary in the dispatch of Culture, Art, and Sports is your belonging to the Garifuna community?

Martinez: Yes, above all because my community had worked at an international level putting Honduras in this area into the consciousness of the world, so I thought that I could contribute something to President Lobo to convey the Honduran cultural world with greater security because I already had an understanding of the topic.

Tiempo: Apart from the Garifuna culture, what other components do you think make up the cultural process in Honduras?

Martinez: The Secretariat of Culture is structured in such a way that it invites to be able to have the different peoples here operating becuase the construction of identity is going to come from the participation of all the peoples. In the government of President Lobo there is a greater integration of the members of the Garifuna community and of other ethnic groups such as the Miskito and the Lenca, so that it's a better balanced approach to culture.

Tiempo: What do you consider are the notable advances that the Ministry of Culture has brought about in the 16 months that you have served as minister?

Martinez: In the first instance, the reformulation of the Secretariat of Culture. We have taken all this time to give it the vision that it truly should have, taking off from the concept of culture that UNESCO establishes. This concept raises the question for us of the degree to which the Ministry should have a more expansive job of stimulating the cultural diversity of the peoples, both afro-Hondurans as well as indigenous peoples. When people don't understand this concept it is normal that there exists some type of mistaken reaction but, understanding it, the very same government, the very same National Congress, will take the steps to fortify it.

Tiempo: Specifically, what does this concept say?

Martinez: It says that the cultural question is the person him or her self when it defines words very clearly as explicit or implicit in regard to their religious behavior, their personal behavior, their conduct with the rest of society, which makes it that the person will be the culture themselves. The great advance in the first year of President Lobo is to open the conditions so that the municipalities will have better participation with agreements of cooperation signed and with the municipal units of culture, of which we have already opened five across all the country.

Tiempo: And from the signing of those agreements, what results have you seen up till now?

Martinez: From there, we are loosening up the accompaniment of artistic groups to the extent of our available funding. The limitations are very great but the most important is that we are creating the political and cultural condition in the local governments to push civil society in its eagerness to have more cultural stability and identity of the municipality.

Tiempo: Basically, your advances have been simply operational...

Martinez: Yes, above all we could not advance because the Secretariat had been left in pure routine, of waiting for proposals, of waiting for us to move ourselves bringing culture to the municipalities when this was totally mistaken.

Tiempo: What is your relationship with the Regional Committees of Culture (Consejos Regionales de Cultura)?

Martinez: The relation continues the same, what has happened is the lack of an ingredient: the participation of the local governments, that also have to support the local committees. We don't discard the previous idea, rather we fortify it incorporating the municipal governments so that they define clear cultural policies.

Tiempo: How is the annual budget of the Ministry used?

Martinez: 70% of the budget goes to operating costs. The rest goes in transfers to cultural and sports groups. Only approximately 3% remains to do all the rest.

Tiempo: What are the groups to which you make transfers?

Martinez: In sports, CONDEPAH, the Olympic Committee, CONPID. In culture, to the museums, including Anthropology and those independent cultural entities that have recognition from the Congreso Nacional.

Tiempo: Why haven't you reactivated the web page to request the ISBN numbers for literary works by national authors, that ceased functioning when the coup d'etat happened in June 2009?

Martinez: There was a serious technical problem that we have to overcome. Presently, the requests can be made directly by the authors in the offices of the Secretariat in Tegucigalpa but we are looking so that in the future the Secretariat will come to the authors.

Tiempo: Why did you decide to bring to Tegucigalpa the equipment of the project "Cine en la Calle" [Cinema in the Streets], that was donated by the PNUD [UN Development Program] and assigned to the regional office of Culture of San Pedro Sula?

Martinez: A reform of the presidency required that Finances, because the project was assigned to Radio Nacional, should transfer all the funds and resources of Radio Nacional to Communications of the Presidency. But we are undertaking the formalities to recover it.

Tiempo: This decision wasn't perhaps a violation of the agreement between PNUD and the region for which the equipment was assigned?

Martinez: No, because in the moment of making the agreement of Cinema and AV they left the project as part of Radio Nacional and according to the disposition of the presidency, everything of Radio Nacional should pass to Communications of the Presidency.

Tiempo: What possibilities are they to recover this project?

Martinez: The problem is that the equipment is there but there is no budget to pay the personnel to make it work.

Tiempo: Can you say then that the bureaucracy has set back the execution of such an important project that has had such good results in all the country?

Martinez: Both in Cinema and in other schemes of the Secretariat, the bureaucracy continues being a serious problem.

Tiempo: With respect to the publications of the Ministry, why have you stopped producing books since the beginning of your management?

Martinez: Because everything is budget. We have had drastic cuts in the budget of the Ministry.

Tiempo: Moving on now to the management of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and Hitsory, that is also a responsibility of the Ministry, why have you gone back to concentrating all your efforts exclusively in Copan, when in the period of former minister Rodolfo Pastor they had begun to extend to other projects in other zones?

Martinez: The question of Anthropology continues under discussion. We have not rescinded any of the agreements established in earlier periods but financial limits continue being our sticking point [literally, eagle's talon].

Tiempo: Could we simplify the subject and say that whatever problem emerges, whatever impediment develops in a program or in the execution of a program in the Ministry has to do with finances?

Martinez: Clearly, very much.

Tiempo: Should the Ministry then limit itself to the labor of "blessing" with its name whatever cultural initiative emerges in whatever part of Honduras since now it doesn't have the capacity to offer more concrete collaboration?

Martinez: This is a Ministry that has always been decimated, that has been totally marginalized. The ministry has not been able to carry out the roll that it should carry out in Honduras. Therefore now we are trying to generate the favorable conditions so that when the deputies of the National Congress discuss the budgetary assignments they will know that there is a people that demands better financial support in the field of culture.

Tiempo: In what other things is the Ministry occupied at the moment?

Martinez: Basically in the structural questions of the municipalities.

Tiempo: Or that is that one year and four months of your management of the job has been solely with the intention of creating this new structure?

Martinez: Exactly, a very hard job, very broad, that we believe remains very short because there now remains little time before the period [in office] ends, barely two years.

Tiempo: Do you believe that with the present conditions in your office, the Honduran population might begin to ask themselves what this Ministry is good for?

Martinez: This question is latent because they don't understand the concept of culture.

Tiempo: Why do you believe that the central government doesn't give to the Ministry the backing that it needs?

Martinez: Because they do not know the concept of culture and not knowing this concept they do not link it to their way of life.

Tiempo: You believe that they don't understand this concept, or right away it doesn't interest them?

Martinez: It's that on not understanding it they aren't interested in culture.

Tiempo: You and how many other people in the country know this concept of culture of which you speak?

Martinez: I cannot tell you how many of us know it but we are very few.

Tiempo: Does President Lobo know this concept of culture?

Martinez: I haven't asked him but he has to. I will take the risk of saying that I do not believe that he knows it fully.

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