Interview conducted by Kim Cornett & Ashley S. Fitzpatrick.
Q1. This week it was announced that a special investigation unit would be established to investigate the murders in the gay community. This is a positive step by the government however it does point out that free speech is in danger in Honduras. What do you think about this investigations unit and this issue?
The gay community is legally recognized by the government in Honduras and they have their associations for gays, lesbians, etc. But unfortunately you also have psychopaths in the world. The responsibility of the government is to investigate everything. Besides having a convention on human rights, the Honduran ministry has also created a commission on human rights. There have been 9 journalists that have been killed and people have a tendency to assume that this is because the government does not respect freedom of speech. This is not true. There is a rumour that these people were involved in drugs. But the first thing that comes to the minds of people from abroad is that Honduras does not allow people to speak against the government. A human rights delegation is due to come to Genève in a few weeks and we are dealing with this issue.
Q2. Concerning poverty, about 60 percent of the people in Honduras live below the poverty line and there is the drug problem and the perception that Honduras is a drug trafficking haven. Could you speak about this, the possible effects this may have on Honduras’s national brand and measures that are being taken to improve the situation?
Poverty does exist, but Honduras is not the poorest country in Latin America. You might be surprised to learn that in terms of the inequalities within countries, Honduras ranks better than even countries like Brazil and Chile. Poverty comes from the lack of jobs and lack of education. When it comes down to education, I have gotten as far as I have because of my education, so I have a very strong position on the subject of education. My father was a school teacher and you will be surprised how cheap it was in the 1960s to go to college in the United States. Originally I went to Monterey because I wanted to learn English. I attended the State University of California. I used to pay only 360 dollars for 3 quarters of university, so it was very cheap. The inability to create enough jobs is a problem because it relies heavily on investment. The private sector is the only sector that can invest and create more jobs sustainably over time. Also, if your population growth is larger than your GDP growth, then you are wasting your time, so demographic trends are also important. The second factor is that the workforce does not always have the required skills, and that’s why education is important. Now if I were to say that from now on education will be very good, it would still take one generation to see the results. If you go to a technical vocational school and you are being trained for 6 or 12 months, then you got it made. In terms of the drug trade, the Mexican cartels have grown so strong that they are fighting amongst themselves to control different territories. They are even beginning to challenge their parent cartels from Columbia. The number of flights between Central and South America has also increased. The amount of weapons that cross the border from the US into Mexico everyday is astonishing. The Mérida Initiative and the Central American Security Mission have been organized to try and deal with these problems. The police forces are contaminated. They are infested in Mexico and other Central and South American countries. You also have to realize that there is demand coming from the United States and this is not being identified in the problem Look at what happened in the 1920s with alcohol. The government made a lot of money in taxes. Now the problems are marihuana, cocaine and heroin and we must work together to deal with them.
Q3. In terms of foreign direct investment, Honduras relies heavily on foreign investment from the US. Particularly after the CAFTA in 2006, over 50% of the FDI was coming from the US. Is the government planning to diversify investment sources and what actions are being taken to attract investment from other countries?
The Northern Americans have been in Honduras and elsewhere in Latin America for hundreds of years, so our relationship with them is very strong. The Caribbean Basin Initiative of 1984 allowed Honduras to export to the US duty-free. The US has established many offices in Honduras to promote export and now Honduras has offices in the US as well. Honduras has become the 4th largest export of apparel to the US. China is becoming more expensive and we are closer to the US, so there is a future. There is an event coming up on May 5-6, 2011 called “Honduras is Open for Business” to promote Honduras and bring as many investors and possible to our country. We are inviting people from everywhere, including places like China, Singapore and South Korea. There is talk about creating a charter city like Hong Kong in Honduras with special rules for everything. In terms of wealth, you have to ask yourself why some places which have an abundance of resources have such a low GDP per capita while countries like Singapore with do not, are doing so well. It’s because they produce. It cannot be based on a single activity and it must be based on higher education. You have to have these experiments to see that if you do things differently, you can be successful.
Q4. How much does indigenous culture applies to the whole culture and how does this apply to foreign affairs?
The Indigenous community makes up about 2-3% of the total population in Honduras. They are still blaming the Spaniards for their bad luck. But the real problem is education. They don’t have reservations like in the States but they do have their own school and hospitals. When you go there, they don’t want to improve anything they do or change their traditional ways. Same thing is happening in Guatemala and Bolivia.