April 23, 2013

Whew! I'm legal again

Just got back with my shiny new annual Honduran residency card so I'm legal again (still) for another year. Here, let me give you a laugh at my expense:

There is no time limit on Honduras residency once it is granted, but you do have to go renew your residency card and prove that you still meet the requirements every year or five years, depending on the type of residency. Every single year, my stomach ties itself in knots when that time comes around. I'm sure that when I present my old card at the extranjero (foreigners') desk for renewal, I'll find that there is a migratory alert out for me and they'll give me 24 hours to get outta Dodge. "Oh, you are that gringa with the blog? Ahah! We've been looking for you!"

This is totally irrational, I know. Or I think I know. Or I think that it probably is. That's what El Jefe tells me anyway. He wouldn't say this, but I think that he thinks this fear is idiotic. And it probably is. Or maybe it is. I hope it is.

He says, "You write the truth and it isn't even as bad as what most Hondurans say."

"Yeah, but they are Hondurans and they can't get kicked out."

Honduran immigration laws

I'll be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about US immigration laws. And I've found that most Hondurans know next to nothing about Honduran immigration laws. Why should they? They were born here and don't need to know anything about them.

The Honduras constitution (Capítulo II) states that foreign residents have the same civil rights as Honduran citizens, with some exceptions like you can't vote and you can't 'desarollar actividades politicas' (develop/carry out political activities). I don't consider writing a blog as a political activity.

I don't promote political activities and I'm not involved with any political parties or candidates. I don't tell anyone who they should vote for, or to protest in the streets, or to start a revolution. Most of what I write about is already public knowledge within the country but often has not been reported in English or in the international media. I believe that the constitution gives me the right to express my opinions. But this government has shown no respect for the constitution and they could interpret 'political activities' any way that suits them at the moment.

I know Honduras is not like Mexico, where – or so I've heard anyway – expat bloggers who write critically of the government are invited to leave the country – pronto! It hasn't been true of anyone I know in Honduras, but I have received lots of warnings from Honduran friends who worry about my safety. Maybe there haven't been many foreign resident bloggers who have written critically of the government or in as much detail as I have. Well, hey, come to think of it, there aren't any expats and very few Hondurans writing like me that I know of. I think that self-censorship abounds in most Honduran blogs for many different and valid reasons. I'll admit that I self-censor, too. Writing about some things could result in retaliation at best and at worst, put our lives in danger.

A decade or so ago, there was Miguel de Arriba, who was deported to Spain after 13 years in Honduras for his outspoken opinions about corruption expressed on his website. The reason was given that Honduran law prohibits foreigners from "referring to internal politics". I know absolutely that the immigration law says no such thing and the constitution only vaguely refers to "developing political activities", not "referring to political activities". Salvadoran Padre Andrés Tamayo was deported a few years ago after many years in Honduras, but he was actively out in the streets promoting political protests which got violent and he publicly called for boycotting elections.

Then there was Costa Rican Federico Álvarez [in English], 34 year resident of Honduras who had been previously honored with presidential and congressional awards. He lost his citizenship in 2010 and was threatened with deportation because of his critical opinion pieces in the newspapers. This was blamed on paperwork errors, but Federico had been warned to tone it down by friends of the president. He was allowed to maintain his residency and is still here with his Honduran wife and his Honduran children and grandchildren, but he quit writing for awhile and may have self-censored his criticism of the government. During that time, the Secretaria del Interior y Población stated that there were five others being deported. No further information came out about that.

I told El Jefe that I read that Miguel de Arriba was escorted to the airport and wasn't even allowed to tell his wife goodbye! "Isn't that terrible?!"

"Oh, just like they do in the US", he pointed out with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh, uh, yeah, I guess that is just like the US," I said sheepishly. Recovering quickly, I retorted, "....but wait, that's for entering the country illegally, not for speaking your mind! I'm legal! I have documents! I have a right to free speech!"

But President Lobo is in the process of drastically changing what free speech means in Honduras. See my next article on Honduras' proposed Gag Law.

The next day

The nice lady at immigration who takes care of extranjeros told me to come back the next morning for my card. Oh, whoopee! I had another whole night and morning to worry that when she entered the renewal of the card in the system, a migratory alert would pop up: Warning! Warning! Detain this person and call the authorities!

As it turned out, she had the card waiting for me the next day. Before she gave it to me, I had to be fingerprinted again for the umpteenth time. Then she asked me to verify several bits of information that they have had in the system for the last 12 years. Hmmm. Is she stalling until the armed immigration agents show up to apprehend me? Finally satisfied, she asked me to sign the book and handed my card over with a smile.

I practically skipped out the door.

El Jefe: "Feel better now?"

Me: "Yes!....until next year."


So, let's be honest here. Do any of you immigrants to this country or any other country get a little queasy when you have to renew your documents? Does anyone else worry, that for paperwork error or any other reason, you could be kicked out of your adopted country? Is it just me and my active imagination?

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