New President's Challenge Begins In Honduras
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Following last week's presidential elections in Honduras, many nations and many Hondurans refused to accept the landslide victory of Porfirio Pepe Lobo. Critics say the elections are invalid because they were carried out by the government, which came to power after a June coup.
NPR's Jason Beaubien reports that winning acceptance at home and abroad is just the first of many problems Lobo faces.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Pepe Lobo takes over a deeply impoverished country that's isolated internationally, struggling economically and internally divided. Most governments in the region suspended diplomatic relations with Honduras after a June coup ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya remains holed-up in the Brazilian Embassy, declaring daily that he must be reinstated as president.
(Soundbite of chanting)
BEAUBIEN: In his victory speech, Pepe Lobo said his first goal would be to form a government for all Hondurans, even the backers of Zelaya who'd boycotted the polls.
President PORFIRIO PEPE LOBO (Honduras): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: In a hotel ballroom in the capitol, Lobo declared, this is not a time for more division. It's a time for Hondurans to move forward as one.
(Soundbite of cheering)
BEAUBIEN: The conservative former head of Congress has been a fixture on the Honduran political scene for years and comes from the country's traditional elite. Two of Lobo's most prominent campaign themes were attracting more foreign investment and cracking down on delinquents. Honduras has a serious gang problem and one of the highest murder rates in the world.
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According to the U.N., more than 50 percent of the population lives in poverty. In the small northern town of Triumpho de la Cruz, Raulio Martinez(ph) runs a small restaurant near the beach - that on this afternoon has no customers. Martinez says the political crisis has been making things even harder for Honduras's poor.
Mr. RAULIO MARTINEZ (Restaurant Owner): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Over the last four or five months, we've been living in a situation that's very chaotic and difficult, Martinez says. This community relies on tourism and remittances. There aren't any other sources of income. With the political situation, there are fewer tourists than before.
Honduras relies heavily on remittances from its citizens working in the States, and these are in sharp decline. Cash sent home by emigrants equals 25 percent of Honduras' gross domestic product. Compare this to Mexico, where remittances are only three percent of GDP.
Triumpho de la Cruz is only accessible by one deeply rutted and sometimes impassable dirt road. Under President Zelaya, the government started to renovate the road, but the work was suspended after the coup.
Mr. MARTINEZ: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: When one government falls, Martinez says, and the other is against it, things either stop or we go backwards. There's no plan for development moving forward.
Now the road project is up and running again but Martinez says the road is just the first of a long list of needs in his village. The health clinic is in shambles. The community has no sewage system and at times the latrines contaminate the drinking water wells. There's no local money for infrastructure projects, so if things are going to get done, he says it has to either come from the central government or international aid agencies. After the coup, international aid agencies cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to the Central American nation.
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BEAUBIEN: Further west, along the Atlantic coast, in the city of Puerto Cortez, a local aid group is building small two-room houses along a lagoon.
Mr. CARLOS COELLO (Project Manager, CEPUDO): All these people used to live in shacks, like the ones in the rear.
BEAUBIEN: Carlos Coello is the project manager for CEPUDO. Funds for this project came from a Christian group in the U.S., Food for the Poor, and haven't been affected by the cut-off in aid. Food for the Poor pays for the materials, the local community provides the land, and the future occupants provide the labor. Coello says the conditions that people are coming from are terrible.
Mr. COELLO: They are living under garbage, houses made out of garbage: plastic, cardboard, whatever material they can find in just laying there.
BEAUBIEN: Typically, Coello says his group can get 50 homes built in four weeks once they get the funding and the land allocated. The cement houses are a huge improvement for the people who get them. But in a country where millions of people still live in poverty - hundreds of thousands of them, in substandard housing - it's just a drop in the bucket. And it's emblematic of the huge social challenges facing Pepe Lobo when he takes over as president next month.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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