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Central America marks independence

This week Central America marks 188 years of independence from Spain, in a celebration that in some ways got bogged down in politics.

For one, the passing of the “Antorcha de la Libertad” (Liberty Torch) became yet another event to salt the wounds of the two-and-a-half-month-old Honduran coup. Every year the torch is carried from country to country as a symbol of the region’s break-away from the grip of Spanish King Ferdinand VII, and of its renewed civismo or civic sentiment.

According to a Guatemalan government website, “The torch has traveled the isthmus for 50 years with the purpose of emphasizing the civismo and patriotic values among girls and boys, youths and adults.”

This year, on home turf, Hondurans got none of that. It was in Nicaragua that deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya’s education minister, Marlon Breve, received the torch from the hands of Salvadoran vice minister of education, Eduardo Badia. Breve, in turn, passed the torch to Nicaraguan Education Minister Miguel de Castilla.

“Central America is hurting,” de Castilla said, according to newswire EFE. “Central America has one piece missing: freedom. Human rights and education have one piece missing, the broad Honduran lands have been usurped by the boot of the military,” he added.

Hondurans remain bitterly divided on these points.

The administration of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has been a staunch critic of Honduras’ de facto government — which itself claims to be the country’s rightful, constitutional power — since Ortega’s ally Zelaya was booted from his home in a pre-dawn raid on June 28, and has also been a gracious host for the leader in exile.

Here in Costa Rica, children poured into the streets on Sept. 14, the eve of Independence Day, carrying candle-lit lanterns, a national tradition.

Costa Rica — Zelaya’s initial host, the one who welcomed the ousted president fresh off the plane in his pajamas — gave a slightly different message for the big event. President Oscar Arias made a call to put a muzzle on politics as usual in his pre-Independence Day address.

“If we continue how we are, in a hundred years we’ll still be arguing over who is the true representative of whichever ideology, whichever trend, or way of thinking. We’ll still be arguing over who’s communist, who’s socialist, who’s liberal, who’s neoliberal, who’s social democrat, who’s social Christian …” he went on. To be sure, Arias has been called a variety of those things by different people at different times.

Arias said that by being bogged down in this circular debate, Latin America loses out to other emerging powers. “This will be the century of the Asians and not the Latin Americans,” he said.

The Nobel Peace Prize-touting president is the hand-picked, and thus-far failed mediator in the Honduran crisis, so the act of celebrating independence takes on a different note this year as the region's very interdependence has struck such a high note.

This week Arias has another chance to push his San Jose Agreement forward, as Honduras’ presidential candidates are set to meet with him for a powwow this week.

More on that shortly….