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Hard times in Honduras


 A public-school teacher joins others to demand months of unpaid salaries outside Congress in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Teachers haven't been paid in six months and are protesting.
Alberto Arce/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 1/25/2013

BY ALBERTO ARCE

Associated Press

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras

--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 operates them is now threatening to suspend the 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 government budget necessary to pay for basic government services. The country is also grappling with $5 billion in foreign debt, a figure equivalent to last year's entire government budget.

The financial crisis adds to a general sense that Honduras is a country in meltdown, as homicides soar and drug trafficking overruns its cities and coasts.

"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."

Many streets are riddled with potholes, and cities aren't replacing stolen manhole covers. Soldiers aren't receiving their regular salaries, while the country's 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 U.S. foreign policy. "If they keep not paying their soldiers, those soldiers are probably going to stop being soldiers and maybe take some other action."

Experts say a mix of government corruption, election-year politics and a struggling economy has fueled the crisis.

The local chapter of the international watchdog group Transparency International issued a study in December that alleged some lawmakers had spent money on plane tickets to a tennis tournament in Spain, Mother's Day gifts and other personal expenses, the report found.