February 23, 2009

Honduras, Voluntourism, International Donations and Loans

The following guest blog was written in response to "Why don't more people help the poor in their own country?"

LG, this is one your most important and insightful writings. I am a Honduran-born American Citizen and believe as you that “the juice many not be worth the squeeze” in many cases of voluntourism. I have worked with NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) throughout Central America and can tell you that many of the efforts to alleviate poverty in Honduras are not worth the costs associated with the effort.

A host organization from Honduras (be it government, groups, individuals or local organization with international contacts) invites a group from the United States to Honduras to help the poor of a
specific neighborhood, usually they themselves have done nothing to help these people and NO plans for sustainability are put in place before or after the visit. They usually want to use international aid to accomplish what should have been done with municipal and federal efforts and tax dollars. These people then reap rewarded monetarily and/or politically shortly thereafter.

Back to the point, the cost associated with these trips, as is with certain fundraisers in the United States, is huge, lodging, alimentation, local and international travel, the time of each of the volunteers of work as well as other local expenses, all usually benefit those who are well heeled inside and outside of Honduras, not those whom these alleviation of poverty efforts are trying to impact. One of the major problems with trying to reduce poverty in countries such as Honduras is the corrupt system of the distribution of aid. Except for a few organizations, there is profit in theft and graft and very little risk of retribution for the illicit acts of corruption perpetrated against the poor.

To look at the cost associated with the reduction of poverty in Honduras by Voluntourism and international donor and lending organizations from a macro perspective, the billions loaned and donated to Honduras over the last 10 to 15 years, not to mention the forgiveness of the debt along with equivalent millions in volunteer aid your writings make reference to have resulted in increases in the poverty indexes instead of the desired effects of lowering poverty; this fact is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) annual report which has been published every year since the loans and donations were initiated.

The only groups that are benefiting from all these donation and lending programs are the few very rich in the Honduras. As in the United States, the gap between the rich and the poor in Honduras is widening, the only difference is that in Honduras the widening is even more glaring and more negatively impactful.

What do we do? The funds associated with all this travel abroad by these volunteer organizations to help the poor get out of their circumstances could and should be used locally to help the poor in their own neighborhoods, I’ll even suggest that you look for some unfortunate Hondurans, assist them in finding work, buying food for those who can’t feed their babies and performing random acts of kindness targeted towards an affinity group of your choice that may free up some cash for them to send to their needy families in Honduras.

Since 9/11 the dollars sent by Hondurans to their dependent families in Honduras has flattened or decreased and the poverty in Honduras has increased according to every study performed by institutions such as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

I wrote a letter to the US Embassy in Honduras, critical of a 10 million dollar donation to the Honduran Supreme Court for the purpose of restructuring the Court to be more transparent and resemble the US system. To me it resembled paying a system to hang itself with 10 million dollars. Why would a system (Judicial, Economic or Social) change itself when all is structured to serve them and the international lending and donor institutions have been feeding it with NO demands for results or accountability?

There is a saying I learned in Honduras “Don’t blame the dog for shi…ng on the rug, blame the one who is feeding it”. What I mean to say by this is that the system of corruption has been fed and kept vibrant by the international lending and donor organizations, they let themselves be fooled with dog and pony shows and few pictures of projects that usually are never completed or are of questionable quality by those like the World Bank which promote privatization of National services such as telephone (Hondutel) Water (SANAA), Electricity (ENEE). Privatization only benefit the rich and in the process hurt the poor by increasing rates for “improved” services when in reality the only thing they are improving is their opportunity to further sink into poverty.

I am of the opinion that the US and other international lending and donor organizations should have adopted a “Marshall Plan” mentality after Hurricane Mitch as was done after WWII decimated the infrastructure of Germany, where a coordinated effort was made not only to rebuild but improve the all the infrastructure systems, which included manufacturing, roads and other infrastructure. Instead what actually happened, like with Hurricane Katrina (USA) and Mitch (Honduras) billions were raised and donated and no one knows where these funds are or what their impact was. It is not too late to get something like the above mentioned accomplished. To continue doing the same thing, the same way, we are guaranteeing the same results of graft, corruption and the continuation of increasing poverty.

I believe in “tough love.” The USA should lead the international donor and lending organizations in cutting off ALL donations and low interest loans to Honduras and other countries with the same levels of graft and corruption (with few program exceptions). Some would argue, what about the poor people? My response would be, do not worry about the poor, they were NOT getting the funds (or equivalency) that was due to them anyway and in reality the poor would not be adversely impacted. (You don’t miss what you never had.) Go and ask any member of the Garífuna communities in the Atlantic Coast, ask any member the San Judas, one of the marginal communities of La Ceiba, Honduras.

An international commission along with a Poverty alleviation Czar (with teeth) should be named by the next President to effectively and transparently manage the international loans and grants destined for projects and programs in Honduras. Additionally, the commission would oversee the contracts and quality assurance along with the application of penalties for non-compliance of contract terms. This last part of the duties of the commission, “oversee the contracts and quality assurance along with the application of penalties for non-compliance of contract terms” has been a glaringly missing the point in the contracting efforts for the reconstruction of the Honduran roads and infrastructure. If they do not finish or the work is sub-standard quality, so be it and no recovery of funds or punishment are levied against the offending company.

I am qualified to comment on this issue from a technical and operational perspective because, “I’ve been there, done that” and I earned a degree in Urban Planning and Environmental Design along with having worked all over Latin America in the areas of Human Development and the formulation of Sustainable Development Plans for African descendant communities in the region of central America. I think Honduras is a beautiful country, its people, although sheep-like, are essentially wonderful. The leaders on the other hand, leave much to be desired. The children of the leaders of Honduras grow up with the same mentality of rights of ownership and the thought that they are above the law along with a serious lack of empathy and consciousness equal or greater to that of leader parents.

I think the Tough Love methodology of fighting poverty is the best remedy for this problem graft, corruption and lawlessness as it relates to Honduras. I have high hopes for the country. People like you who are reading LG Blogicito can make a difference by writing to your congresspersons, voting, keeping abreast of policy and legislation which effect a region of your interest and taking part in the upcoming 2010 Census.

Eduardo Guity
Independent Consultant
Training, Human and Sustainable Development


Related articles:

The original article, Why don't more people help the poor in their own country? along with the numerous reader responses.

Reader rebuttal to this article
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