Honduras can't pay its bills, neglects services

Hondoras

Street surveillance cameras in one of the world's most dangerous cities were turned off last week because Honduras' government hasn't paid millions of dollars it owes. The operator that runs them is now threatening to suspend police radio service as well.

Teachers have been demonstrating almost every day because they haven't been paid in six months, while doctors complain about the shortage of essential medicines, gauze, needles and latex gloves.

This Central American country has been on the brink of bankruptcy for months, as lawmakers put off passing a budget necessary to pay for basic government services. Honduras is also grappling with $5 billion in foreign debt, a figure equivalent to last year's entire government budget.

"There are definitely patients who haven't been able to get better because of this problem,'' said Dr. Lilian Discua, a pediatrician. "An epileptic who doesn't take his medicine will have a crisis. This is happening.''

The financial problems add to a general sense that Honduras is a country in meltdown, as homicides soar, drug trafficking overruns cities and coasts and the nation's highest court has been embattled in a constitutional fight with the Congress.

Many streets are riddled with potholes, and cities aren't replacing stolen manhole covers. Soldiers aren't receiving their regular salaries, while the education secretary says 96 percent of schools close several days every week or month because of teacher strikes.

Some government offices must close because they don't have ink to take fingerprints. The country's national registration agency has been shuttered for 10 days because of unpaid salaries.

"In many ways, the state is no longer functioning,'' said Robert Naiman, policy director of Just Foreign Policy, a Washington D.C.-based organization aimed at reforming US foreign policy. "If they keep not paying their soldiers, those soldiers are probably going to stop being soldiers and maybe take some other action.''

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