As part of my communications work for the Comision de Accion Social Menonita, I decided I'd do an English-language Facebook page for CASM. I figured I could highlight some of the work of the organization as well as share stories about Honduras that offered an alternative to the endless murder-and-mayhem headlines that come out of this country.
Alas, it is unbelievably hard to find stories about Honduras that are even neutral, let alone positive. I've never seen a country in more dire need of good PR than this place. I mean, there are definitely problems here, but the single story line coming out of Honduras really does a disservice to this poor country.
As if it wasn't bad enough to be branded the "murder capital of the world" due to all the violence in the drug trade here, it seems that barely a month can go by without some other totally weird tragedy putting Honduras into the world's headlines.
Since we arrived in January, there has been a massive prison fire that burned up 365 inmates, a massive fire that wiped out a huge public market in Tegucigalpa, at least two really ugly prison riots, and that nasty business with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in which four apparently innocent people were gunned down. And this past week brings news that 21 people in Siguatepeque have died from drinking tainted alcohol.
Horrible things do happen more often in poor countries, of course. But the problem for Honduras is that the only stories that make it into the media are the horrible ones. It gives such a distorted view of the country, not to mention scares the hell out of my family. It even scares away aid agencies - like the Peace Corps, which cited security concerns in its decision to withdraw more than 150 volunteers from Honduras a few weeks before we arrived.
And what must it do to the people of Honduras? As this study notes, 25 per cent of Hondurans surveyed about strategies that might bring about positive change in governance in their country believed that nothing could change the situation. Surely that's the gravest impact of all of relentlessly negative news: People lose hope that anything will ever improve.
The poor country has taken quite a hit in tourism ever since the 2009 coup (yeah, that didn't help the image either). Walk around Copan Ruinas and you can see that the town has all the infrastructure for a much bigger tourism economy than actually exists now. Ever since we got here we've been hearing from local merchants that things were slow but maybe that would change in June. But June came and went without much of a bump in tourism.
And who can blame the tourists if they do pick a different destination? If all you know about Honduras is what you hear in the news, Hawaii starts to look pretty good.
All I can tell you is that there's much more to the story of Honduras. It's not Canada, but it's not the Killing Fields either. I wouldn't be here if it was, wandering freely and comfortably hither and yon and even inviting my kids and grandkids down for a visit.
I'll keep looking for the stories that tell another side to this beleaguered country. In the meantime, keep an open mind.