December 5, 2006

A country of retirees

This article was translated from an opinion column by Otto Martín Wolf, La Prensa, Honduras, December 4, 2006. Sr. Martín is a regular contributor to this newspaper.

A country of retirees

Our principal export product is people. We send people outside the country and these people send money back to us: las remesas (money transfers).

After las remesas are the conventional products of exportation that have a big problem: We have to work to obtain them. For example, when you send a box of shrimp (or any other product) to the exterior, in return comes a check. The difficulty with this type of exportation resides in that, if you want another check the following month, you have to send another box of shrimp and for this you have to work.

But, if you export people, most likely a check will come every month, maybe for life!

This is the reality of Honduras; it is our reality.

We have to be clear that our economy is sustained by the money of remesas. The growth of banks, shopping centers, the sales of cars and televisions, hamburgers and donuts, all depends in major part on las remesas. If they don't exist, the Lempira might move to 30 or 40 per dollar and with the tendency to continue devaluing perpetually.

And, besides, if these people wouldn't have gone (how many are there, 800,000?), they would be here competing for jobs, the use of public services like hospitals, schools and increasing the number of criminals.

The business, from the financial point of view, is circular. We get rid of the problem and, in return, they send us dollars.

Besides, those who venture looking for opportunities − men and women − are valiant and merit admiration and respect. Futhermore, all those who are human have a right to look for a source of income wherever they can find it: Miami, Madrid, or Karfanabú.

What worries me are two things: The first is what could happen if las remesas terminate. Say for example, if the USA entered a depression like happened in the 1920's (God forbid) and our compatriates lose their jobs and can't send more money. Fortunately, this outlook isn't possible in the near future.

The second of my worries is for something that is already occurring and this is where the immediate and long term danger for Honduras lies.

Many of our compatriots who receive las remesas are accustomed to not working, simply because they have no need to do so.

Normally we haven't been fanatics of work, they say, but now the thing is getting more complicated; many of our relatives outside the country are paying us not to do so. We only have to sit and wait and each month go to Western Union or the bank and later go out to spend. This situation is, more or less, like this mountain of people are retired and each month receive a retirement check.

How does this money increase our production capacity? In very little. What it does increase is the capacity to buy televisions, stereos, clothes and food. It is a cycle that I don't like at all: We export people − receive dollars − import televisions − reexport those dollars.

We are learning to consume, not to produce. I definitely don't like this prospect.

La Gringa: Official Honduran estimates are that las remesas are expected to reach US $2.3 billion in 2006 and while reports vary, remesas are expected to represent somewhere between 25% and 40% of the gross national income of Honduras.

In his article, Mr. Martín asked if 800,000 was the number Honduras living in other countries. Other estimates report that it may be as high as 1 million. Out of a population of approximately 7.3 million (again, accurate statistics are just not available) that would mean approximately 12.5% of Hondurans have left their country to try to find a better life. If the CIA's estimate that 39.9% of the population is 14 and under, one million people represent about 24% of the potential working population.

No matter which statistics you choose, it is pretty clear that the country of Honduras would collapse without the money transfers from relatives working in other countries, primarily the USA (estimated at approximately 94%).

I translated this article almost entirely by myself without aid of Google or dictionary! El Jefe was very impressed, but if any of you Spanish speakers notice any errors, please let me know.
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