Date: Oct 15, 2018
Author: David Inczauskis S.J.
This post first appeared in Teatro La Fragua‘s September 2018 newsletter.
The mood in Honduras is timid half a year after the illegitimate re-election of President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH). Life goes on as normal, exactly as it was during my last summer visit a year ago. Other than a half-week long protest by transit drivers due to an unprecedented increase in gas prices, the resistance seems to have petered out. JOH remains in power as he quietly continues to build up the military and play buddy-buddy with his trade partners.
In the face of this lackluster situation, Teatro La Fragua has decided to present an adaptation of Animal Farm (1945) by George Orwell. It’s clear that la Fragua’s interpretation is a portrayal and denunciation of JOH’s conservative government instead of Orwell’s original polemic against the communist government of the Soviet Union.
In fact, while the play is principally an objection to JOH, it begins its critique of Honduran politics with a farm analogy to the unjust military coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. The play’s Mr. Pilkington, the nearby gringo landowner who consistently intervenes in the farm’s governance, schemes with the three pigs Napoleon (JOH), Snowball, and Arielo to overthrow Rosales, the rough analog of Zelaya. The references to the Zelaya affair are clear. The pigs and the foreigner object to his desired “fourth round” of voting for the sake of a “general consultation” about the possibility of reforming the Honduran constitution for the better. They use this referendum as a pretext to remove Zelaya/Rosales from power. They consummate their coup—which they call a “constitutional succession,” not a coup—and install a revolutionary government.
The new government, at first, appears to be just. The pigs pen a new constitution, ironically, in favor of the equal rights of all the farm’s animals. However, they begin to take away these rights one by one, altering clauses at will to suit their special interests. One example of such abuse involves the clause “no animal will kill another animal,” an allusion to the Ten Commandments. When Napoleon begins to slaughter his opponents, he secretly changes the constitution to read “no animal will kill another animal without cause.” Hondurans recall JOH’s violent and deadly repression of protests against his manipulation of the 2017 elections. After one show in conversation with the cast and director, a spectator commented that La Fragua’s Animal Farm is a faithful representation of JOH’s corrupt and illegitimate government in this violent aspect, among many others.
Another source of conflict in the play is Napoleon’s decision to give away the farm’s lumber, mines, and rivers as concessions to other farms. These arrangements mirror a long tradition in Honduras of governments that take away natural resources from the native people in order to produce profits for foreigners and for the government officials themselves. I’m reminded of the San Andreas mine near Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras. The Canadian-affiliated company Aura Minerales promised jobs, wealth, and security to the local community next to the mine. In the end, however, the company only hired a few locals, who wound up with lead and mercury poisoning due to unsafe mining practices. Furthermore, the company exhumed corpses from the community’s cemetery in order to exploit the land below. Concessions offer hope for modern “advances,” but in reality, they only further the limited interests of those in power.
There are so many other parallels to Honduras’ current political situation that it’d be nearly impossible to name them all in this short reflection. It suffices to say that La Fragua is brave to present Animal Farm under today’s circumstances. The play is a cry for hope and liberation in an otherwise depressed and tame environment.
Before the show officially premiered at the start of the summer season, La Fragua played Animal Farm to a group of adult students undergoing a program of political formation with the Jesuits. An extraordinarily vibrant discussion followed. As soon as Edy Barahona, the play’s main director, asked for comments, hand after hand shot up into the air. Ten speakers later, people were still looking to get in an additional word. Edy had to cut the discussion because, if he hadn’t, it seemed like it would last until midnight.
The pre-season reaction is a powerful testimony to the way that the show resonates with the Honduran people. The audience members were encouraging each other to read the Constitution first hand so that they will know what constitutes a violation and what does not. In a country where politicians constantly accuse each other of constitutional breaches, it is crucial that the public be able to sort out contending allegations for themselves. Democracy only works when people are informed and truly participate in political life. La Fragua provided an inspiration for just that.
When the true premiere did roll around, the troupe played to sold-out, jam-packed crowds during the opening weekend of Animal Farm. The closing applauses on both nights were long and loud. Animal Farm has resonated with locals so much that they have asked for repeat performances at the end of the summer season. People are clamoring for more. Jack, Edy, and the actors agreed. Two more encore presentations have been added to the schedule.
David Inczauskis, S.J., is a Jesuit scholastic at Loyola University Chicago, where he is pursuing master’s degrees in Spanish literature and social philosophy. In Chicago, he also serves as a college Spanish teacher, a chaplain to various student groups, and a spiritual director in the Ignatian tradition. David is currently working with the theater on a book about its history, style, and practice that will be published in 2019 by the Jesuits’ Central American University in El Salvador
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