MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
Honduras is holding its presidential election this Sunday. The vote comes in the midst of political turmoil after the coup in June. The deposed president Manuel Zelaya has been holed up in the Brazilian embassy for two months. He is not a candidate, but he calls the elections illegal. He's threatened to challenge their legitimacy in court.
The U.S. has said it will recognize the results if the vote appears to be carried out in a free and fair manner.
As NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, people in Honduras hope the vote will end the political uncertainty, even as life gets harder.
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JASON BEAUBIEN: The dump on the outskirts of Honduras' second largest city, San Pedro Sula, is a vision of hell: piles of trash burn and smolder across a blackened landscape. As a garbage truck dumps its load, vultures, dogs, cows and children tear into the glimmering fresh bags of refuse. The ground is actually yesterday's garbage: rotten food compacted together with scraps of cloth, industrial waste, used oil filters, fast-food cartons.
On this day, a cold drizzle tamps down the stench, but it makes the ground ooze under your feet.
Mr. ELIAS ARGUELLO ANDINO: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: At times people have to eat from the trash, says Elias Arguello Andino, who scavenged at the dump for more than 20 years. Trash from the restaurants comes here and people consume it. They have to because there's no dignified work.
Arguello has seven kids and a fourth-grade education. He says the needs in Honduras right now are huge. But since June, the Central American country has been gripped not by questions of development or how to eliminate poverty but rather: who is the legitimate president.
On June 28th, the Honduran military rousted President Manuel Zelaya from bed, forced him at gunpoint onto a plane and dropped him in his pajamas at the airport in Costa Rica. Zelaya snuck back into the country in September and has taken refuge at the Brazilian embassy. He demands that he should be reinstated as president, and most of the international community agrees with him.
The fallout from Zelaya's ouster has at times completely shut down the nation. And here, the mayor of San Pedro Sula fled the country the day after Zelaya was toppled.
Mr. ANDINO: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Here at the dump, Arguello says, the same political parties that are fighting amongst themselves and there's no one in a strong position to say, no more of this.
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BEAUBIEN: As Arguello talks, two young men are eating tortillas straight out of a garbage bag they've just ripped open. Kids as young as 7 are shuffling through the trash. Some teenagers are sorting bits of metal into a pile, others are collecting cardboard. A yellow bulldozer pushes the newly arrived trash into pits and bonfires.
Vice Mayor WILMUR ANTONIO PARED (Ocotillo): (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Wilmur Antonio Pared is the vice mayor of the adjacent village of Ocotillo. He says most of the scavengers are children between the ages of 10 and 14. And in recent years, he estimates 16 kids have died after getting run over by the bulldozer.
Most of the people who work in the dump live in Ocotillo. The deeply rutted dirt streets of Ocotillo climb lush green hills. The hills look down on a muddy soccer field. Most of the houses are simple shacks, some of them cobbled together haphazardly out of scraps of wood, plastic and cardboard from the landfill.
Marina Delgado and her husband, Santos, used to live in such a place. But last year, CEPUDO, the local arm of Food for the Poor, gave them a simple cement house.
Ms. MARINA DELGADO: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Now the couple live in the two-room building with eight of their children and three of their grandchildren. One of their youngest sons is sitting in front of a pile of electrical wire. He's stripping the insulation off the cables. Santos will sell the copper for scrap.
Normally, Santos paints cars for a living but there's been no work lately, so he's been scavenging at the dump.
Ms. DELGADO: (Foreign language spoken)
BEAUBIEN: Marina says, there's no good source of work here, and it's expensive to commute to where the jobs are. If we don't have money for the bus, we can't work.
Honduras has been getting battered like every other country by the global economic downturn. But in addition, international aid agencies cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to Honduras after the June coup.
The government of de facto President Roberto Micheletti is hoping that the upcoming elections, which were scheduled before Zelaya was toppled, will allow Honduras to return to the international fold.
In Ocotillo, there's a recognition by many residents that one election isn't going to change Honduras dramatically. But many say they hope it will be at least a step in the right direction.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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