Para la versión en español, clickea aquí
This week, I will be focusing on Honduras with my theme title being “Searching for Honduras”. Finding films for Honduras was hard, but the ones I did find showed me a lot about the culture. Hopefully, since Honduras passed legislation that solidified infrastructure for national audiovisual media projects in December 2019, the industry will grow even more.
Mi Amigo Angel (1964) tells the story of Angel, a young boy who lives on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. He tries to work as a shoeshine but is impeded by violence and neglect. He spends the rest of the film searching the city for his alcoholic father in this snapshot of a bustling Central American city.
An Era of Growing Workers Rights in Honduras
Through the 20s and 40s Tiburcio Carias, a military strongman led Honduras hand in hand with the United States. But after World War II, Carias was out and the Honduran people were becoming less enamored with the US. On April 10, 1954, UFCO dockworkers at the Tela railroad complex refused to load a company ship with bananas that was headed to the US. The workers wanted to be paid double since a 1948 law approved by Carias provided for a 12-hour workday and overtime pay but was never enforced. By May 4, an estimated 25,000 United and Standard Fruit Company workers were on strike and by May 15, the strike reached San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa where urban factory jobs were and striking workers numbered between 40,000 and 50,000. At that point in Honduras, labor unions were an anomaly. The first significant strike in the country occurred in 1917 but did not have much of an effect. Pro-union sentiment grew as workers’ rights grew. Among the highest paid laborers in Honduras, wage increase demands varied in 1954 among the striking groups, ranging from 50 to 72% in addition to demands for overtime pay, paid vacations, and severance pay.
Many of them were inspired by the election of leftist, Jacobo Arbenz to the presidency in nearby Guatemala. Honduran elites felt that this pro-union sentiment and growing communist sympathy was a menace. With Guatemala becoming a growing threat, the US turned its gaze toward Honduras. Honduras served as the training and staging area for the 480 man army of General Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes in an attempt to overthrow Arbenz in Guatemala. President Juan Galvez of Honduras urged the US to encourage a strike settlement that excluded the Communists. On July 6, 1954, the general strike ended with a labor agreement that provided for a $20 bonus for all workers who immediately returned to work. It also promised paid vacation.
Despite limited gains for the communists, the strike marked a major turning point. The Honduran labor movement grew, the fruit companies declined and by the late 60s, Honduras led all Central American nations in the unionization of workers. The Liberal Party came back to prominence with the ex-exile and doctor, Ramon Villeda Morales. In 1954, he won the most votes of all the candidates in the presidential election but fell short of a majority.
The deadlock led to a coup from Vice President Loranzo Diaz and President Galvez fled to Miami. Loranzo Diaz’s support dwindled because he wanted to replace all parties with his own and he ordered the arrest and exile of Villeda Morales and his other party leaders. On October 7, 1956, congressional elections were boycotted on the basis of fraud. By October 21, the army ousted Loranzo in a military junta. This was the first time the military acted not as a tool of the political party in power but as an institution. The junta governed for a year until elections were assembled in 1957 when Villeda Morales won. He modernized the cities of Honduras and signed a new national labor code that guaranteed workers’ rights in key areas.
Though he promised UFCO not to introduce radical labor or agricultural reform he introduced the 1962 Agrarian Reform Law which infuriated the country’s elite. Unfortunately, his alienation with the elite and later the military led to another coup by Oswaldo Lopez Arellano who silenced radicals and let the 1962 Agrarian Reform Law lay dormant.
The biggest villain in the film is an older worker in Tegucigalpa who intimidates Angel and his friends. Angel’s first meeting with him is in a park where he and his friend attempt to shine shoes. They are immediately shown out and shoved by this older boy. Through violent intimidation, he is able to dictate where these boys can work. The next time we see him, he rapes the mother of one of Angel’s friends while they are out skinny dipping. Her son catches them as the older boy locks his hand with hers in a tight and overpowering embrace. Ashamed, he runs away. These young boys were supposed to protect their mothers and they are instead left feeling emasculated. But why does this older boy seem to be such an agent of chaos? What provoked him? His purpose is revealed after these two violent events when the boys find him in the city dancing to American rock ‘n’ roll music. This older boy that dictates where people work and takes over women’s bodies without care is a very American presence. Now that Honduras was distancing itself from America, the director, Sami Kafati represented the villainous nature of American control.
Sleeping on the Future
The first scene shows that Angel is far more responsible than his own father who lies in bed asleep when Angel is already out the door and off to work. By the end of the film, his mother sends him out to look for him and he finds him passed out at a bar, too heavy and unresponsive for Angel to take him home. Try as he might, it is no use. The final shot of the film shows Angel coming home alone and taking a detour through a cemetery. Without guidance at home from his father who is an inept alcoholic and his mother who is too busy trying to keep the house in order, Angel has no future. The leaders in his life are, in effect, asleep at the wheel, and Angel is stuck in a stagnant, dreary routine. Even when Angel goes to pray in a church, no one is there. He stands alone, screaming into the void. At a time in Honduran politics when change was being stalled and the progress of workers’ rights was being impeded, Kafati was urging his audience to think of the future and all the workers who are currently fighting for equality. Without leadership, these children will wander through the cemetery long before they need to dwell there.