They Ought to be Able to Figure it out
Former US President Bill Clinton was in the news here last month when, in his new capacity as global elder statesman, he appeared at a university in Tegucigalpa to stress the centrality of education as a fundamental pillar of development. It was a message that cannot be overemphasized for Honduras, which brings up the rear in regional comparisons of educational attainment.
Clinton’s eight years in the White House were controversial and noteworthy for many things. In addition to being only the second president in U.S. history to be impeached (and also to be acquitted by the Senate), he pushed the historic North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress over the opposition of most of his own Democratic Party. He then saw his party lose control of Congress in a mid-term electoral rebuke of historic proportions and presided over two government shutdowns due to an impasse with Congressional Republicans over budget priorities. Nonetheless, he won reelection in 1996 and became the only president in the last 40 years to balance the federal budget.
What Clinton may be less remembered for, but what his visit at this point in time and place reminded me of, was his role in the U.S. professional baseball strike of 1994-95.
Major League baseball games were suspended in August 1994 over a disagreement between players and owners over player salaries. Those who have never lived in the US may find it hard to appreciate how traumatic it was for many Americans for their summer pastime to fall victim to a dispute over money. But even though it was an essentially private matter, five bills were introduced in Congress related to the strike.
In the thick of the dispute, Clinton, trying to stay above the fray, famously summed up the issue thusly:
“It’s just a few hundred folks trying to figure out how to divide nearly $2 billion. They ought to be able to figure that out.”
Unfortunately, they couldn’t, and the rest of the 1994 season was lost, the World Series was canceled for the first time in its 90-year history, and the sport’s image was tarnished in the eyes of many fans forever. I for one never went back to following baseball seriously (although, to be honest, that my hometown team, the Royals, has not fielded a serious contender since 1990 also contributed to my loss of interest).
Which brings me to the subject of the Tourist Police station in West End. As reported in this issue (page 20), as of press time, the station has been closed more than a month because municipal authorities, community leaders and local businesses cannot agree on who should pay the electric bill.
Disputes over who should pay for what are never easy. Disagreements over who committed to do what and when are common and are the stuff of politics. Leadership is about resolving those disagreements in a way that preserves everyones essential interests.
It seems to me that everyone in West End shares an essential interest in maintaining law and order, both for the benefit of local residents and to maintain the inflow of tourists on which the community’s economy depends. There may not be $2 billion to divide, but everyone stands to lose if the security situation deteriorates, or even appears to do so.
At a time when international news media are full of reports about Honduras’s high and rising crime rate, Bay Islands businesses, especially those in the tourism sector, need to be taking proactive and visible steps to assure that their customers can still visit and enjoy the islands safely. Allowing the disagreement over the West End police station to fester and for the neighborhood to go without full-time police presence sends exactly the opposite signal.
Thus, this is something the community needs to come together on to “figure out,” and it shouldn’t be that hard. There are already several proposals out there. Settling on any one of them will most likely require one or more parties to swallow their pride and pony up something they would prefer not to (or would prefer someone else to). But letting the problem go unsettled also carries a cost for all concerned.
Major League baseball games eventually resumed in 1995 after players and owners realized they both had more to lose by not playing than to gain from a continued standoff. The game itself was at risk. In fact, the game has since struggled to win over a new generation of fans, and it is perhaps no coincidence that today, nearly 20 years later, more US youth are playing soccer than baseball.
Likewise, Clinton and the Republicans in Congress eventually came together on a budget deal that promised surpluses as far as the eye could see (until George W. Bush was elected). But some would say US politics has never been the same. The brinksmanship and bare-knuckle tactics that characterized both the budget battle and the subsequent impeachment fight had enduring effects that changed the very nature of public discourse.
With a bit of wisdom, humility and foresight, the West End community, the police, RECO and municipal authorities ought to be able to figure this much smaller problem out before they do lasting damage to the Bay Islands’ reputation.