by Allan McDonald
(translation by Doug Zylstra)
dedicated to Abril
Before, when life was not yet in fashion, and the world was simply a road of drab brown stones, those were the years of the olive green jeep, Garduna chocolates, the Alliance for Progress which came to us as powdered milk for the poor children in my school, those were the fabulous ’80s, the years when I would leave my house to fly kites against the wind that ran rampant through the sky, and listened to the older folks speak of a certain Custodio, a man of steel tempered by the heroism of openly taking the military to task and being our defender, the handkerchief to wipe the tears of a wounded democracy in that green era.
Time evaporated like a sunrise and we survived, like crabs on a beach of dead Pelicans, all of us who crossed the border of hope trying to arrive at the decade of the ’90s.
I had just turned 17, a cartoonist from the very beginning and already working in the newspaper, publishing my daily cartoon, as always, and my humor page every Saturday, believing persistently that the destiny of rebellion points us toward the utopia of a better county. I have always thought that, always. And then one memorable afternoon, one of those so memorable that you store it away in the warehouse of the soul so that it can never be forgotten, I found myself walking through Barrio Los Dolores, on my way to the archives of the Committee for the Defense of Human Right, CODEH, which in those days was located there, where the shouts of frustrated market vendors mixed with the prayers of the church nearby, that other market of dried-out crucifixes.
I entered CODEH, and asked for help regarding some research I was doing on old cartoons. Looking through the yellowing papers, dust and light that seemed a storehouse of memories, I suddenly came face to face with Dr. Ramon Custodio, the legendary old man, with his mustache, like a leaf tangled up in the roots of its own tree, woven deeply into the skin of his battle-seasoned face. His being seemed centered on the movement of his hands that were tucked into his gray pants pockets, his white guayabera and his middle-aged hair flying like a suicidal seagull. He stuck his hand out. “Hey there, young man,” he said, “I’ve been hoping to meet you for while now, say hello, share a coffee and talk about your work…” His words were tired, yet full of sincerity. We sat, talking about the difficult things going on in the country, the confusing transition from the political crisis to the economic one. Those were the years of Callejas, of corruption throughout the country. It seemed odd to him that, me still being only a teenager, in the year 1990, we could talk as in one of those old tales of old men and young kids. Saying goodbye, using the excuse of a made-up appointment, the Doctor put his hand on my shoulder and spoke the difficult words of a kind grandfather to his troublemaking grandson. I will never forget them:
“Look here, son, do you have kids?” I said no. Imagining my emotional lapses in the midst of a lost heart, I could never even dream of having one of my own. “Look, today you are a good cartoonist, strong, rebellious, but tomorrow, when you have your own children, you’re going to forget about all this, and you’ll think about normal things, about how to feed your kids, you’ll see.” He turned around and disappeared into the artificial light, between the dust and the papers which flew about like a forgotten carousel.
It’s been almost 20 years since the day that I met with Don Ramon Custodio, and life went on for each of us, him doing his things and me, mine. I drew him a couple of times when he launched his independent candidacy for the Presidency. He failed to collect the necessary signatures to get on the ballot, a pantomime of democracy deemed necessary to enter the circus. Then I saw him one day in Technicolor in the Congress, raising his right hand in front of the group of flunkies that had picked him as the new National Commissioner on Human Rights, the class that detested him, that hated him, that had even put a price on his head; they were now giving him the prize for what the Doctor knew by memory, if not by feel.
Today, there are no words, no excuses, no curious young men, nor learned doctors. Today, in this de facto country, we are now face to face in the street, each with the peace of his dignity weighed down, those of us who march in the light of victory of true democracy of both struggles and noble acts to defend a lost homeland and those who shut themselves in their offices with fine mahogany desks, with drawers full of the moist dust of nostalgia fallen into disuse and the photo of our elected president taken down, ripped off the wall with servility, and with a new photo up, this time our spurious one. Behind is the flag, blue and white, hanging humbly on its pole, that simple flag which wraps itself around both the blind and the dumb, the lepers and the heroes who have fallen, face-forward, to the somber riot of resentment.
And now, there’s the doctor on TV, all channels roadblocked with his press conference. He looks out, he whose face no longer even appears in the files of the CIA, saying that the dead don’t exist, that the army uses only rubber bullets, that the innocence of the men of honor is evident, that perhaps it was a clumsy revolutionary type, someone who believes in that pale promise of homeland that shot a communist bullet and killed the young man at the airport. My friends- I, who have never touched a gun, who have never put up a photo of any president behind my desk, who have always drawn face-forward, I got up, scared, and ran to the crib of of young daughter, the girl that the doctor talked about 20 years ago, my little Abril. I covered her with my hands, I hugged her, I sang her a lullaby, I covered her eyes so that she would not see the man who I had so deeply admired and tell her that the doctor had once said: “Look, young man, when you have children, you’ll see things differently.” And it’s true, I do think differently; with my daughter as counterweight, I should be rebellious, and I should have dignity until the end, so as not to become that man of rubber, no longer of steel, and that when the years go by, and my Abril begins to fly kites, she will think of me as the the man who did not betray her. It will rain on her that day, and she will not feel sad. And by then, my daughter will have a new country.
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* Note by Sandra Cuffe:
The title may not be immediately clear for those who have not been following events in Honduras extremely closely. Shortly after theHonduran Armed Forces snipers and soldiers fired live rounds of ammunition with rifles and machine guns into the unarmed multitude of protestors at the airport in Tegucigalpa on July 5th, 2009, killing 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo and wounding several others, longtime State Human Rights Commissioner Doctor Ramon Custodio Lopez stated to the media that only RUBBER bullets had been used…
* Note by Adrienne Pine, who published this translation on her blog, http://quotha.net/:
For those who missed it: Political cartoonist Allan McDonald was one of the first individuals attacked by the coup regime; his house was ransacked and his cartoons burnt by the military one day after the coup. He was kidnapped by the military with this 17-month old daughter, Abril, and held incommunicado without food for over 24 hours before being released. See a photostream of his recent cartoons here.
Don Ramon Custodio was inaugurated as Commissioner on Human Rights in Honduras in 2008. He has come out in favor of the Micheletti Government on what he says are “anti-establishment grounds’, and many of his statements have been both a severe disappointment to the Honduran People who most are in need of a voice to declaim the Human Rights abuses of the de Facto government and a mechanism utilized by the Micheletti government to support their claims to constitutionality and legitimacy. His diplomatic visa was revoked two weeks ago by the US Department of State.