Searching for Meaning in Amor y Frijoles

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Synopsis

Amor y Frijoles (2009) tells the story of Karen, a food vendor who begins to suspect her husband of cheating. With encouragement from her friend, she continues to suspect him but it is revealed to be a big misunderstanding.

Neoliberalism and Modern Day Honduras

Roberto Suazo Cordova

Since the 1980s, Honduras has embraced neoliberalism for better or for worse. The president from 1982 to 1986, Roberto Suazo Cordova, quickly opened the Honduran door to foreign investment. In rural areas, there were huge improvements to health with the infant mortality rates dropping drastically and more clinics appearing. But in 1990, Honduras remained one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere, with agriculture remaining the most important economic sector. Beginning with 1989, the next four presidential elections were marked by continual party infighting and the emergence of a new group of political leaders. In 1993, the Liberal Party candidate, Carlos Roberto Reina won the presidency because of his reputation as a human rights advocate and his sympathy for Fidel Castro’s social programs. He launched a moral revolution and sought to reform the armed forces.

Unfortunately, the withdrawal of the US military meant his successor Callejas faced a drastic drop in military and economic assistance from a total of $1.6 billion in the 1980s to less than $200 million in the 1990s. Violence rose and the next president Ricardo Maduro, who lost his son Ricardo to gang violence, brought the military back in force to patrol the streets. Corruption and crime however became a defining characteristic of the next administration and US President Bill Clinton halted a $5 million aid package to Honduras. 

The CAFTA-DR Signing

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras the hardest out of all the Central American countries. Over 5,000 died, 8,000 were missing, 12,000 were injured and another 1.4 million people were displaced. The country’s infrastructure was also left in disarray. International aid flooded in and the Honduran legislature approved the DR-CAFTA Treaty, the first free trade agreement between the United States and the Central American countries. In the 2000s, President Zelaya’s administration was marked by corruption. In 2007, Hondutel, the government-run national telephone service was exposed for receiving bribe money from the US base international telephone carrier, Latin Node Inc. He was also criticized for abandoning Maduro’s tough-on-crime policies and allied himself with Cuba and Venezuela, a controversial choice. 2009 marked a spike in instability when members of the Honduran military stormed the home of President Manuel Zelaya on the eve of the election. He left for Costa Rica and the National Congress appointed Roberto Micheletti as president. Still, Micheletti received very little international support, with even the US allying with Cuba and Venezuela against Micheletti. The summer and fall of 2009 saw an increase in violence and it prompted Micheletti to declare a 45-day state of siege. Finally, in November 2009, Porfirio Lobo was elected president, but the problems in Honduras had not been solved.

False Allies

Amor y Frijoles

Throughout the film, our protagonist Karen deals with the constant escalation of her suspicions which is only encouraged by her friends and allies. Her coworker at the food stand, Nicole, constantly tells her that she needs to be more vigilant because her husband is surely off with someone. She does not even bother to look at her own husband who is constantly eyeing Karen. Karen’s friends are not the only ones encouraging unfounded suspicions. Most nights while she waits for her husband to come home, she watches a Spanish language but US-based talk show. This shows talks about alcoholism, infidelity, and really cements the idea for her that her husband is cheating. What does all of this mean? This kind of drama, whether from Nicole or the TV show, seems to all lead back to the US’s influence. Nicole gets her drama from this show as well and this show feeds Karen’s fears while also encouraging her and other Latin Americans to finally make the trek to Miami. We always think of telenovela affairs and betrayals as native to Latin America but could it be that this drama is being transported to Latin America from the US? Amor y Frijoles provides a very convincing argument.

Religion in Amor y Frijoles

Amor y Frijoles

The other source of problems in this film is religion. It starts off when Karen’s husband’s lateness is finally revealed to be due to the fact that he was praying at church. His lies about where he was made Karen even more suspicious of him. Religion seeps in again while Karen is watching TV and sees a commercial for a preacher in Tegucigalpa who promises that through his church and loving God, her marriage can be saved. Just like the Miami-based TV show, this preacher’s Tegucigalpa base seems to be a glamorous solution. Unfortunately, when she finally arrives, she sees that the preacher is much less glamorous. He does not want her love. He wants her money. Again, the film points to bigger issues in Honduras that have their roots in those that profligate on TV. Religion is not a singular or isolated issue. It is interconnected with the corruption of the capital and TV corporations. The film presents a multifaceted view of the problems every day Hondurans face and the ways in which they are still connected with higher powers (not God by the way… international corporations and the US).

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