A major news story in Honduras on Saturday had to do with a promise by Minister of Health Salvador Pineda to pay all the back wages owed to more than 3,000 auxiliary nurses and 672 contracted physicians. The doctors are owed approximately Lps 72 million ($3.4 million), and some of them have not been paid for 9-11 months. One physician in Tegucigalpa said, "We can no longer bear so much debt, so many commitments that have been made to us and so many lies." The promise by Minister Pineda was made shortly after the president of the Medical College of Honduras, Elmer Mayes, announced that the doctors will meet on Monday to decide on measures to pressure the Ministry of Health to pay up.
Some of the doctors have already gone on strike in protest, including those at the public hospital in La Ceiba. The nurses are also scheduled to meet on Monday to discuss options.
This latest salary payment problem involving the Ministry of Health has been going on for more than a month now, and it is happening in the middle of a major dengue fever outbreak. The number of reported cases of dengue in Honduras has reached 26,747 for the year. At least 25 people have died from disease. In July, the Honduran government declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak. At that time, a total of just over 12,000 people had been diagnosed with dengue.
Other key public employees in Honduras have either been on strike during the past few weeks, or have been threatening to go on strike, due to salary issues... mainly having to do with the fact that they've not been paid. To name just a few of them: the police, the firefighters, hospital guards and cleaning personnel, and bus drivers.
In the middle of all of this mess, President Porfirio Lobo flew to Rome to meet with Pope Francis for 15 minutes and present the new pontiff with a small sculpture of the Virgin of Suyapa -- Honduras' patron saint. The importance of the sculpture is that it will be only the second from all of Latin America to be placed in the Vatican Gardens. No, not kidding. Mr. Lobo also wished to extend a personal invitation to the Pope to visit Honduras.
Traveling with Mr. Lobo was his wife Rosa Elena and his three sons, Ámbar, Said and Luis. Also going along for the ride was Vice-President María Antonieta Bográn; the president of the Supreme Court of Honduras, Jorge Rivera; the executive director for the Office of the Presidency, Diana Valladares; the director for the Family Allowance Program (PRAF), María Elena Zepeda; the sub-chief of the Presidential Guard, Mauricio Alemán; and various officials of the Honduran Catholic Church. Keep in mind that Mr. Lobo and his family, and some sort of entourage, went to Rome in March to attend Pope Francis' inauguration.
Anyone notice anything wrong with this picture?