Thursday, 3 May 2012

How to Win Votes: FREE FUNERALS (but at what cost?)

"Honduras murders: Where life is cheap and funerals are free"

The accolade for the highest murder rate in the world belongs to Honduras, an award I am sure that they are not happy to receive. It is also a country where many live in poverty and when a family loses a loved one, they can often not afford the funeral. The mayor of Tegucigalpa, Ricardo Alvarez (pictured below) said: "I found that people were being buried in plastic garbage bags”.

Ricardo Alvarez

One recent politician decided that a main focus of his campaign would be to offer free funerals for anyone unable to give their family member a dignifed burial. This vote-winning promise worked! It raises questions in the value and importance of a dignified burial in a country where financial resources could be better spent.

When a family needs help, they phone the city's mortuary where there is a stack of brand new coffins. They send out a black pickup truck with "Funeraria del Pueblo" painted on the side which takes the coffin, plus a stand, curtains and candles. The funeral is then held in the local church and afterwards buried in a plot provided by the People's Funeral Service.

One of the reasons this service is so important to the people of Honduras is because the murder rate is staggeringly high:

The National Commission for Human Rights has worked out that there is a violent death every 74 minutes in this small nation of about eight million people (not much bigger than the population of London). In the UK there is just over 1 person killed per 100,000 each year, it is 86 in Honduras.
Many of these deaths are violent, and usually involving a gun. The reasons for the murders are complex though:
  • The 2009 coup brought a wave of political killings
  •  Mexican drugs cartels now operate in Honduras
  •  It's estimated that 79% of all cocaine flights from South America to the US stop in Honduras
  •  There is one gun in Honduras for every 10 people, according to the UN
  •  Police corruption allows violent crime to go unpunished
  •  Two-thirds of Hondurans live in poverty
Due to poverty and poor medical care there are many deaths that are also from natural causes which means that the state-provided funeral service is kept very busy. On average it would cost $1,000 (£620) for a private funeral service.

Yoni Alexander Osorio Hernandez, works at the People's Funeral Service. He said:
"We also hurt for the families - especially because there is so much violence in our country. Most of the families who come to La Funeraria del Pueblo are very poor indeed. This is a service based on solidarity - solidarity with those families at a very difficult time for them."

Is the value of life being forgotten for some in Honduras? What can be done to change the violent mindset of some
people in Honduras? Do you think that providing this service should have been an important priority for the Honduras government? The cost of this service will no doubt affect budgets for things such as education and health, is this right? What is the importance of a dignified burial?

Read full article here: including links to listen to original BBC Radio 4 broadcast

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