The history and contemporary context of Honduras, and “the pedagogy of crisis”: A conversation with Juan Lopez of FSAR

This summer, I went to Honduras for two weeks on an intercambio (exchange) within the EarthCARE Global Justice network. The EarthCARE network is an international research and development collective of eco-social learning initiatives and organizations that seek to integrate the ecological, cognitive, affective, relational, and economic (EarthCARE) dimensions of local and global justice (you can learn more about the EarthCARE framework here, and view a partial list of the EarthCARE network members here).

The EarthCARE framework proposes a vision of transformational learning that combines practical “doing” (together), the building of trust (in one another), deepening analyses (of self, systems, and social and ecological contexts), and dismantling walls (between peoples, knowledges, and cultures). In this vision, intellectual engagements, the arts, ethics, the environment, worldviews, and embodied practices are all understood as important conduits for learning. The framework invites learners:

  • to explore the contributions, paradoxes, and limits of their current problem-posing and problem-solving paradigms,
  • to engage experientially with alternative practices that challenge the limits of their thinking and capabilities, and
  • to contribute to the creation of new paradigms of social change that open up not-yet-imaginable possibilities for co-existence in the future.

The EarthCARE network seeks ‘alternative approaches to engagement with alternatives’, moving beyond the search for universal models and problem-solving approaches towards preparing people to work together with and through the complexities, uncertainties, paradoxes, and complicities that characterize efforts to address contemporary global challenges.

As part of a project linked with EarthCARE, the research group I work with visits and learns alongside organizations that are engaged in social change efforts and whose imaginaries of hope and justice look beyond the horizons of possibility enabled by global capitalism, the modern nation-state, ‘universal’ Enlightenment humanist knowledge, and individualism/separability.

In Honduras, I was generously hosted by the Fundación San Alonso Rodriguez (FSAR), which is located in the city of Tocoa, in the department of Colón. Apart from the fact that FSAR is part of the EarthCARE network, I visited them for two reasons. The first is that the US has been deeply entangled in Honduran politics, as well as the Honduran economy, for well over 100 years — in particular since the arrival of extractive US fruit corporations in the 1890s (Honduras is the original “banana republic”). Recently, the US granted its tacit approval of the 2009 coup d’état when then Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, refused to call for the return of the ousted president; the leader of the coup had also trained at the infamous and recently rebranded School of the Americas. More recently, following the 2017 presidential election in Honduras, the US State Department offered its congratulations to now-president Juan Orlando Hernandez, despite many legitimate concerns that the election had been stolen. Yet, many people in the US seem to conveniently forget these entanglements when undocumented Hondurans arrive at our borders seeking refuge from the political violence and economic hardship that our country’s government has helped to create.

The second reason was that I had met FSAR’s administrator, Juana Esperanza Urbana Esquivel, at a meeting of the Ecoversities Network in Costa Rica in 2017 (where the EarthCARE network and framework first emerged). During our time in Costa Rica, Juana offered incisive analyses of the social and political context in Honduras, including both the destructive impacts of US involvement and militaristic nationalism, and Hondurans’ powerful (and sometimes, contradictory) traditions of creative resistance and resilience.

Mural of Berta Cáceres at FSAR’s offices in Tocoa

As part of my visit to Honduras, I asked Juana to recount some of that history and context, as well as talk about FSAR’s work accompanying communities who are engaged in struggles to protect their lands and waterways from the incursion of foreign mining companies, transform colonial gender relations, and develop/reclaim sustainable methods of farming and home construction. She also spoke about how this work relates to the EarthCARE framework, and the joys, challenges, and contradictions of community-anchored, decolonially-oriented education. For those who speak Spanish, you can listen to Juana’s insights here:

During my time at FSAR, I also came to know Juana’s colleague, Juan Lopez, who is a voracious reader and writer of both local (Honduran and Central American) and global politics, philosophy, economics, and history. I asked Juan if he would share his thoughts — in particular, what he would like to say to USians who generally know little about Honduras and our role there — which he graciously did. The full recording can be found here:

For those who do not speak Spanish, I will offer some highlights from Juan’s commentary, given that he was eager to share and for people in the US to develop a deeper understanding of our role in Honduran history and the contemporary context. Some caveats: my Spanish is not perfect, and thus, neither in my translation; I also have not translated things word-for-word (unless it is in quotes), and I do not include every topic or detail he covers.

Juan begins by speaking about Lempira, who led the Lenca resistance against Spanish conquest in the 1530s, since our interview happened to fall on Lempira’s birthday (July 20), which is a national holiday (the Honduran currency is also named after him). This conversation then leads Juan into a longer discussion of the history of successive colonialisms/ imperialisms in Honduras (first Spain, briefly the UK, and then the US), all of which he says have been rooted in efforts to extract wealth from the earth for profit. First it was Spanish mining efforts, then US banana plantations, and now, palm oil production. These days, mining efforts have also ramped up again, but in contrast to early days of colonial mining, in which extraction efforts were fairly superficial in the ground, mining today is often done through the use of toxic open pit methods. Juan argues that the history of Honduras is one of extractive violence; however, it is also one of the battles of the Honduran people to defend their collective rights by resisting that violence.

He offers an analysis of how the US developed its economic power, first by initiating the attempted conquest of Indigenous peoples in the domestic territories it sought to claim, and later by treating Latin America, including Honduras, as a storehouse from which to siphon wealth (which was justified using the Monroe Doctrine). This history, Juan says, helps to explain contemporary inequalities between the US and Latin America, and the continued influence of the US on politics and daily life in Honduras.

US involvement in Honduras began with the imposition of a monoculture of banana production in the late 19th century; US fruit companies were granted huge tracts of land by the Honduran government on which to grow and transport bananas, which they did using the exploited labor of Honduran workers. Juan urges us not to forgot the many ways that, since then, the US government and corporations have continued to assert dominion over Hondurans; this includes the training of the Honduran military, and millions of dollars of aid annually, much of which goes to fund the military and police.

Juan then talks about the current conditions of poverty, food insecurity, and poor healthcare experienced by many Hondurans, which he says helps to explain why so many people are fleeing to the US. He notes, “el alto porcentaje de la inmigración en Honduras es producto de las politicas Estado Undidense aplicadas a Honduras” (“the high rate of immigration in Honduras is a product of the US state policies applied to Honduras”).

Juan also talks about the need for resistance and social transformation, particularly by way of education. He says that, for those (like FSAR and others) who are engaged in popular education efforts, it is necessary to imagine an approach to education that decolonizes thought, and which enables us to have a sense of the relevant historical, political, administrative, social and military contexts in which we find ourselves.

He suggests that the contemporary moment in Honduras is characterized by crisis. A small number of families control much of what happens in the country — the economy, the media, industry and commerce, food production. He argues that, in the present context of this crisis, it is necessary to fight for a better future, which will require short-term, medium-term, and long-term changes; but, he suggests, “no puede haber un país libre sin educación” (“there cannot be a free country without education”).

Finally, Juan describes “la pedagogia de crisis”/“the pedagogy of crisis”, which requires that we ask philosophical and educational questions including, “what is education? what is the human being? what is life? what is the state?” He asserts that Hondurans needs to think for themselves, which requires the use of tools for critical analyses, including self-critical/-reflexive analyses and considerations of how people have been shaped by the very structures that they critique. Juan talks about an approach to the pursuit of liberation that integrates spiritual, psychological, biological, sociological, and environmental dimensions, and which allows us to understand that we are a part of the larger, living ecosystem, rather than separate and independent from it. He contrasts this to a capitalist society, which separates humans from the environment, and treats the environment as a site from which ‘resources’ can be extracted and accumulated, and which places money above human life.

Juan suggests that a pedagogy of crisis should recognize that human beings cannot continue to live separated from one another, separated from other beings, and organized by relations of domination, in a global society running toward collapse. It is therefore necessary to dismantle inherited inequalities, so that we can learn to share the earth with each other and with all other species, “hasta el microbio más pequeño” (“down to the smallest microbe”).