by Tom Webb, Pax Christi Northern California
Longtime students and activists knowledgeable of the Central American scene are probably aware of the role the agricultural export economy has played in shaping the politics, economies and cultures of countries like Honduras and Guatemala. Often derisively labeled “banana republics” bananas remain among the leading exportable crop in both countries. Guatemala is the third largest banana exporter in the world behind Costa Rica and Colombia. This crop remains among Honduras major export crops as well although the spread of banana diseases threatens it’s standing.
As noted two months ago in an article in “New People” an interfaith pilgrimage to Honduras and Guatemala organized by the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity last August explored the root causes of the dramatic spike in immigrants from these two countries. After meeting with over twenty different faith-based organizations, academics, direct service providers and immigrants themselves from these two Central American countries we decided to further educate our U.S. constituencies on our findings.
One means of informing others is by encouraging our faith-based communities and secular counterparts to join in a forty-day banana fast. While corresponding to the Christian liturgical season of Lent it is meant as an opportunity of members of other faith traditions to participate as well. This is not so much a boycott of bananas as a means of learning more about one of the root causes of immigration from these two countries both historically and currently.
A small bibliography is intended to educate those who participate in the problematic role the oligarchs and multinational corporations who have controlled the bananas industry historically and to the present. Additionally, participants can learn through two DVD’s about the growing role African palm oil and gold-mining now play in creating a crisis in Honduras and Guatemala.
Participants are encouraged to donate the money they save from not purchasing banana to Radio Progresso in El Progresso, Honduras. Radio Progresso ,which is operated by the Jesuit community in Honduras, is a progressive radio station which often times finds itself on the polar opposite side of government renditions of events in Honduras. Ismael Moreno, SJ (aka Padre Melo) is the director of the station. Government and corporate interests have variously tried to bribe, intimidate, threaten and even target the radio station and it’s employees in many, many ways over the years. Participants of the School of the Americas Watch know Padre Melo from his testimony at the November vigil recently.
Funds from the “Banana Challenge” will be used as part of an “Emergency Solidarity Fund” that will go to help Radio Progresso address the humanitarian needs of leaders and activists who are displaced and forced to relocate for safety. Checks should be made out to “IM4Humanintegrity” with “Honduras Emergency Solidarity Fund” on the memo line. They should be mailed to Rev. Deborah Lee, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, 310 8th Street, Suite 310, Oakland, CA 94607.
Tom Webb is a staff member of the Oakland Catholic Worker, regional coordinator of Pax Christi Northern California and a journalist for the Oakland Voices Project of the Oakland Tribune. He was a participant in the “Roots Causes” pilgrimage in August.