By Carlos Arrazola
GUATEMALA CITY – Central America celebrated Tuesday the 188th anniversary of its independence from the Spanish crown amid widespread violence, a political crisis threatening democracy in Honduras and hunger in Guatemala that has caused the deaths of at least 25 children.
Despite the adversities Central America’s five countries are going through, students and authorities of these countries have poured into the streets for the patriotic festivities with their colorful parades and official ceremonies.
Though each country has its own particular problems, the effects of the international financial crisis, which has deepened poverty everywhere, and the widespread violence that has made the isthmus one of the most dangerous places in the world, are like a backdrop to the entire commemoration.
In Honduras, social and political polarization following the June 28 removal of President Mel Zelaya is even more pronounced on this date.
On the one hand, the current Honduras government led by former congressional speaker Roberto Micheletti has organized a “civic-military” parade, which will march through the principal streets of Tegucigalpa and end at National Stadium.
At the same time, civil-society groups of the pro-Zelaya Popular Resistance Movement will carry out a parallel activity to commemorate the occasion.
The “Torch of Freedom” that is traditionally carried through Central America will not pass through Honduras this year, since the governments of the region do not recognize the Micheletti administration.
The torch, which left Guatemala at the beginning of September, was handed over by the El Salvador government to officials of the Zelaya administration in Nicaraguan territory.
In Guatemala, where on Sept. 15, 1821, the Central American colonies declared their independence from the Spanish crown, hunger lies in wait for more than 400,000 poor families who have lost their harvests of corn and beans to the drought.
President Alvaro Colom decreed last week a state of public calamity to deal with the food crisis and has asked for aid from the international community.
Hunger, which affects more than 2 million Guatemalans, has taken the lives of at least 25 children, and threatens 1.3 percent of minors in the area with the same fate.
El Salvador, the smallest country in the region, is celebrating its independence day in the midst of violence – official statistics put the average number of murders at 12 per day.
In impoverished Nicaragua, independence is celebrated with the news that illiteracy has been reduced by 3.5 percent, which according to President Daniel Ortega is thanks to the participation of young people.
But this social progress is clouded by the hunger affecting thousands of Nicaraguans.
Costa Rica, the region’s most stable country, like its neighbors will celebrate independence with student parades, but in the midst of a controversy sparked by a bill declaring the nation “a secular state.”
The Costa Rican constitution, which dates to 1949, establishes in article 75 that “the catholic, apostolic and Roman r
eligion is the religion of the state, which contributes to its maintenance.”
The bill, promoted by 13 lawmakers of different parties, is rejected by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and supported by President Oscar Arias and the majority of candidates who will dispute the nation’s presidency in the February elections.