In Western Honduras, a slow path to a fast road

April 20, 2013

By Jennifer Brookland

The CA-4 highway in Western Honduras is an artery that links the industrial hub of San Pedro Sula with the country’s largest port, coffee roasters of Santa Rosa de Copan to distribution networks, and tourists with the Mayan ruins. It also connects Honduras with neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador.

Instead of allowing visitors to flow in and exports out, however, the CA-4 highway is an eyesore, an obstacle and sometimes a deathtrap.

It is cracked, potholed and buckled. Every two or three months, crews are dispatched to patch up the road—but they never seem to really repair it.

Vice-Mayor of the municipality of San Nicolas Copan, Roberto Carlos Chinchilla Sorto, says this makes the CA-4 something else: a symbol of corruption. He suspects that some companies and public officials could be benefiting from illicit road maintenance deals.

From San Nicolas Copan to the capital of Tegucigalpa, people are seeing the problem.

“In the last six years, millions of lempiras have been invested in maintaining the highway,” says Dina Eguigure, Senior Program Officer at the nonprofit Counterpart International. “But if we do a tour of Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula to Copán, we will realize that the road is completely destroyed. So we do not know where the resources have gone.”

Advocating for transparency

Counterpart’s Impactos program is partnering with two civil society coalitions—the Asociacion de Organizaciones No Gubernamentales (ASONOG) and Espacio Regional de Occidente (EROC)—to mobilize residents, investigate road investments and work with the Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Housing to resolve the CA-4 dilemma.

Developing these organizations’ capacity to advocate for better highways is one of the major contributions of the Impactos program, says Equiqure.

ASONOG and EROC are organizing and amplifying citizen voices calling for improved roads in Western Honduras, a region they say is historically neglected by politicians who find more votes elsewhere.

They have formed a citizen coalition of more than 20 organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, professional associations, community groups, banks and business, in three provinces of Western Honduras.

“Why? Because everyone feels harmed by the road,” Eguigure says.

Quality of life

José Ramón Ávila, the Executive Director of ASONOG, says: “It is of utmost importance for us in the west, which has 40 of the 80 poorest municipalities in Honduras. I think rebuilding roads and making them accessible will help improve the quality of life of an entire population—the nearly 30 percent of the national population that lives here.”

A smooth, safe road would allow residents to invest more in their families or businesses instead of on brakes, shock absorbers and suspension repairs. And proper, long-term road repairs would mean millions of lempiras now earmarked for upkeep could go to other sectors, such as health or education.

It might attract more tourists who would spend money on hotels and restaurants throughout the region. Fruit and lumber exports would be more cost-effective to truck out.

Noé Mercedes García, a community volunteer with EROC, says 45 percent of the country’s coffee comes from Western Honduras. “So why not have a road in top condition?” he asks.

EROC, a joint body that promotes public and governmental coordination to influence public policy, began by researching five years of appropriations assigned to road maintenance in western Honduras.

More recently, it started working with authorities from the Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Housing to investigate the use of funds assigned to the maintenance of CA-4.

“There are significant changes,” says Ávila. “First, we have put the construction of this road on the government agenda as a key regional development issue. Second, we have more sectors that are interested in this issue, and not just the problem of the road but what this means for the whole context.”

National transparency efforts

ASONOG, EROC and the notorious CA-4 highway are just a piece of the Impactos program.

With USAID support, Impactos is building up civil society organizations around the country to enable citizens, organizations and the government to increase transparency and accountability of public institutions.

“Our program works bottom-up and top-down,” says Gloria Manzanares, Counterpart’s Director in Honduras, referring to the approach of engaging both civil society and the government to address mutual challenges.

Progress may be slow, but it is underway, and it seems to be accelerating.

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