Saturday, February 18, 2012

Is This Really Happening?

This morning, like every Saturday, Daniel and I began the day by assessing the sky to determine if we could wash clothes and have enough sunlight to hang them to dry.  All looked clear, so we did.

After hanging the first load, Daniel noticed a really dark "cloud" in the sky, and we prayed it wouldn't rain before our laundry finished drying.

Later, on our way home from the grocery store, we noticed a billowing cloud of black smoke rising up from somewhere near centro.  Arriving home, I asked our guardener*  what was on fire.  He told me that two markets in Comayaguela, a poor area of downtown Tegus, were on fire.

He said that the fire was started by gangs, angry because the people in the market wouldn't pay the war tax (impuestos de guerra), a form of extortion the gangs use by requiring taxi and bus drivers, and small businesses, to pay them a regular amount of money in exchange for "protection" or the use of "their" streets or neighborhoods. 

Here's a concise summary I found from the China Post (?)

"The transformation of Maras [gangs] into more organized crime syndicates has been central to Honduras' demise.
As well as trafficking drugs, many gangs bleed businesses by levying a so-called “war tax” or extortion payments in the territories they control.
Many taxi drivers are forced to pay criminals about US$30 a week, small shops about US$50. Most Hondurans earn less than the official minimum wage of about US$300 a month. War taxes became widespread in 2008 and have since mushroomed to endemic levels.
“The Maras tax almost every taxi and bus in Honduras' major cities,” says Congress' vice president, Marvin Ponce, who sits on the security committee. “If you add it all up, you can see that it is a multimillion-dollar business.”"

I have to say, though, that there is no official word about whether or not this fire is gang related.  (But then again, with so much corruption in high places, would the truth ever really come out?)  I was reading citizen comments on the Honduran newspaper's website, and many of them are ranting about lax government policies and poor safety standards as the cause of the fires.  But whatever the case may be, this is just too much.  Demasiado

*guardener (noun) The name I gave to someone who watches your house while also trimming bushes or grass, among other odd jobs.

(We had one of these when I lived up near the school, and we have one again where I currently live.  It's basically just a live body to be at your house when you're not... usually for Sunday mornings.)

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