COMMENTARY: Fear of home

María Leiva mourned the idea of going home because she’s accepted that she can’t. (Alex Dascalu/AQ)

María Leiva is a third-year political science and international relations student at St. Thomas University. She’s from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 

It’s December 2017 and almost a month has passed without news of Honduras’s November election.

Honduras is a complete disaster. Businesses are being looted and people are taking to the streets. The main avenues are literally on fire.

That was the story of my country for a month in 2017. Meanwhile, I was in Fredericton where it was peaceful and stable. Riots occurred in Honduras and inside my mind.

In November 2017, Honduras held the national general elections which were “historic” because for the first time in the country’s history, the president was seeking reelection. The president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, has been accused of corruption numerous times. I and other Hondurans considered the reelection unconstitutional.

Honduras’s constitution prohibits reelection and condemns even talking about it, but since Hernandez became president in 2014, he appointed his friends as judges in the Supreme Court. Hernandez’s party, the National Party, also controls Congress.

In Honduras, the polls open at 7 a.m. and close around 8 p.m. We usually know the results around midnight but November was an exception.

It took the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which is in charge of the election process, almost a month to share the results. They used fraud to keep Hernandez in power.

December 2017 was difficult for me and other Hondurans. I couldn’t study for my finals because I could only think about my country. I suffered from anxiety attacks and began taking medication. I also felt guilty because I was here, in calm Fredericton while my family, friends and compatriots were struggling at home.

My friends and I received pictures from our family in Honduras, along with videos, showing the wild protests that were so dangerous, nobody wanted to go outside.

Despite the chaos, I returned home for Christmas break. The day I arrived was the same day the election results were announced. It was so crazy it took us 10 hours to drive home from the airport when it would’ve usually taken four. The streets were on fire. It reminded me of The Purge, a dystopian horror film. 

I was only in Honduras for three weeks and I couldn’t visit some family members or friends because of the chaos. My mom, who teaches at the National University of Honduras, sent photos and videos of the police throwing tear gas at the protesting students.

I was scared of being home.

Since 2017, there’s been numerous violent protests in Honduras. There were protests during April and May 2019 because of a law on restructuring the education and national health system. It wasn’t only young students protesting on the streets, but doctors and teachers too. The protests were because a new law could privatize the few public schools and hospitals available.

Now, Hondurans are once again on the streets because a New York City court found the president’s brother guilty of drug trafficking and money laundering.

People in Honduras aren’t just angry because of the rigged elections or the accusation of Honduras being a drug-state. Hondurans are hurt and resentful because there’s no medicine in the hospitals, there’s no books in the schools and there’s no jobs no matter how hard people look for work. They’re scared of being robbed and they’re tired of false promises that things will get better while it gets worse.

Since December 2017, I’ve experienced constant guilt, remorse and hopelessness. I always thought of returning home and giving the best of me to my country but I can’t because the corruption and weak institutions won’t let me. I know many international students who want to go home but can’t because there’s no future there.

I can’t return to a country where I cannot speak freely, where there’s no justice and where my field of study is dominated by the corrupt.

I’ve mourned the idea of returning home because I’ve accepted I can’t go back. How can you go back to a place where being good and just can kill you?