by Jesse Freeston
Lots of news came out of Afghanistan this month, but perhaps the most terrifying is evidence that the pre-invasion ban on music is being implemented in the eastern city of Jalalabad. McClatchy journalist Hashim Shukoor reported attacks and threats against the city’s music vendors. The story was reprinted hundreds of times, and rightfully so, because editors and readers alike understand the importance of music to any society. But what if a similar attack was taking place somewhere else? Would we know about it?
Honduran percussionist Carlos Roman, from the group Montuca Sound System, explained to me in a recent interview that “what musicians and poets say is a reflection of their reality” and added that “music is one of the ways that societies have developed over time.”
Roman understands very well the significance of a regime that sees music as a threat. He is currently recovering from a joint attack by the Honduran military and police that left him with his head split open and his equipment destroyed or confiscated.
He was playing a free show with the band Cafe’ Guancasco in Honduras’ second largest city, San Pedro Sula. The show took place on September 15th, a day celebrated across Central America as the anniversary of independence from the Spanish empire. For the second year in a row, the official celebration was countered by the Honduran National Popular Resistance Front, a broad coalition of Hondurans mobilized by the 2009 coup against the movement to re-write the Honduran constitution and the President who championed that movement, Manuel Zelaya.
Over the past 14 months, the coup regime has targeted journalists, teachers, nurses, students, LGBT activists, and many other groups for their opposition to the coup. With 8 murdered journalists in the first half of 2010 alone, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Honduras the most dangerous place to report in the world at this point. According to the CPJ, the global authority on threats to journalists, Honduras accounted for roughly 25% of the world’s murdered journalists so far in 2010. Honduras represents 0.001% of the world’s population.
But the attack on Cafe’ Guancasco, a musical favorite of the resistance movement, represented the first targeting of musicians. The band has put out a series of urgent pleas for international attention, yet they received exactly zero coverage from the mainstream media in the West. So what determines whose music is worth defending and whose isn’t? What does it take for Honduras to make the news? Recent events show it takes the support of the UN or the US State Department.
At a joint press conference by Honduran President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo and the President of Palau, Johnson Toribiong, at UN headquarters in New York City, both countries promoted their recent decisions to ban shark fishing. The news should be welcomed by the world’s environmentalist community, which sees shark finning as a terribly destructive practice, but Honduras isn’t a hotspot for the activity.
While the announcement was reported from Kansas City to South Africa it was largely irrelevant in Honduras. All the Honduran environmental groups I contacted were unaware of shark finning in Honduras; a scan of the archives of Honduras’ four major newspapers yields only two stories about shark fishing. One reports that the regime’s obscure law regulating shark fishing has no enforcement mechanism. Francisco Molina, an environmentalist and employee with the Center to Prevent Torture in Honduras, remarked that “it seems quite funny to me to ban shark fishing. It just shows Lobo’s need to sign anything necessary to obtain international recognition as Honduran president.”
The press conference came one day after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed their support for President Lobo. I don’t want to push the comparison to the Afghan Taliban too far; I’ve never even been to Afghanistan, after all. But I do want to raise a simple question: Is Afghan music more valuable than Honduran?
Jesse Freeston is a reporter for The Real News Network, on whose website this article first appeared.