Paulina Alvarado, an international student from Honduras and a graduating senior from Brown University's Class of 2020, studied political science in an international and comparative politics track, as well as public health. She has previously participated in the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (SIP) summer internship program in Santiago, Chile. She was a Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship recipient and did foreign work and study in the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She wrote this article for Stephen Kinzer’s “International Journalism: Foreign Reporting in Practice” course at Brown.
By Paulina Alvarado
“The government just sent us soap for dogs!” a Honduran woman complained in a viral video on social media. Within the week she was an internet sensation among Hondurans’ social media feeds.
“Look! The bag won’t last 15 days, there is no detergent, no toilet paper!” the Honduran woman screamed to curious family members and neighbors who had gathered to watch around her mud-and-cement house with a dirt floor in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
The video shows the small woman angrily ripping the bag apart, taking out items in the food provision bag and throwing each one on a dusty table.
The woman in question is #LadyZote, her nickname on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. She is protesting the limited food provision supplied by the Honduran government program “Honduras Solidaria,” which helps provide basic necessities to more than 800,000 families amid the coronavirus pandemic in Honduras.
#LadyZote’s video echoes a much wider critique in the press and social media of the Honduran government’s corruption and limited credibility. Hungry Hondurans say they are angry at the government’s handling of the crisis. While #LadyZote’s complaints of the “bolsa solidaria” go viral, many Hondurans take to the streets to protest to receive one in the first place despite restrictions on public assembly.
Online, many made fun of #LadyZote as Zote soap is not a “soap for dogs” as she claims in the video but rather a soap that can be used for bathing or washing clothes; others criticized her behavior in general.
“They are donations,” Twitter user @Lalo343x commented, “ If someone gives you something out of their good will, you should only be grateful and that is it. Don’t be like #LadyZote.”
Those who have found the video humorous have not hesitated to post videos on TikTok of their own bathing with Zote Soap. DJs on Twitter, such as #LadyZote fan @iori_oficial found the video so funny, he made a musical remix of #LadyZote.
“I leave this small remix for you all to make your quarantine less dull” DJ Iori oficial tweeted using hashtags like #FUERAJOH meaning “Leave JOH.” JOH is Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez’s initials.
For many Hondurans #LadyZote’s video is just another form of bad press for the country. Sarahi Mairena from San Pedro Sula, Honduras is especially angry with the video’s exposure, and how it’s another form of negative news about Honduras.
“This woman only puts us in shame” Sarahi said, “Besides our country being famously known for corruption, we are now labeled stupid.”
Honduras has some of the highest rates of corruption in the world, according to Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions index. On a scale of 0 to 100 (0 being highly corrupt and 100 being highly transparent) Honduras received 26 points. This is its lowest score since 2013. Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez won the presidential election that same year, but was sworn in for his second presidential term among protests and general discontent in 2017.
In the Central American region, Honduras is one of the countries with the highest budget to deal with the coronavirus pandemic with US$3,742 million—much more than El Salvador with $2,000 million and Guatemala with US$2,025 million.
Although some of the budget comes from loans from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, most comes from the national budget. In late March, an expenditure of US$3,000 million was approved through new legislation. In a televised message on March 29, President Hernandez, announced US$14,4 million had been approved for the “Honduras Solidaria” program.
The program was established by the executive but implemented by local governments. They buy local products as well as antibacterial soaps and masks, creating a “bolsa solidaria” or bag with more than 20 nonperishable food items and hygiene products, including sanitizing gel and face masks. The bags are then delivered to the most needy by the Honduran armed forces.
Although we can see #LadyZote receive the “bolsa solidaria” in the video, many Hondurans have yet to receive one.
While entering San Pedro Sula, the industrial capital of Honduras, a big flag next to Megamall declares in red lettering “Our families need food.” The city known for its work ethic no longer buzzes with activity.
Since the government ordered an absolute lockdown on March 15, San Pedro Sula has become a ghost town. Some hungry citizens defy coronavirus and dare go outside to face the scorching heat of the city in desperation.
The “bolsas solidarias,” have not reached many neighborhoods in San Pedro Sula, many say. Citizens from Lomas del Carmen, one of the most needy neighborhoods in the city, disobeyed the lockdown order to protest for food. Both old and young went to the streets, some with face masks and colorful cloths, and carried a Honduran flag with them and posters asking the president for food.
Outside the St. Peter the Apostle Cathedral in the city center, some street vendors sit on the side of the road with wagons of fruits and vegetables or even phone cases to sell in case a lonely car may drive by and they can make some money for the day. Beggars ambush any cars on the road to plea for money for food.
Minister of Education Arnaldo Bueso in a national televised message asked families for their patience, while boasting that most neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa have timely received the “bolsa solidaria.”
Residents of Tegucigalpa have also taken to the streets, setting up a barricade of burning tires in the main boulevard Suyapa to demand the “bolsa solidaria.” While Tegucigalpa has three warehouses to make the “bolsas solidarias,” San Pedro Sula has just one.
On social media many were oblivious to the food provision bag’s origin and #LadyZote’s most compelling plea, one that was not about dog soap.
“Tell the president to stop stealing the money that has been donated to us, and instead think of “the people”, nuestro pueblo, that is suffering.” The humorous tone of the video fades, and we are left with the raw truth, the unfiltered sentiments of Honduran citizens.
Although #LadyZote may be trending on social media for her rant about Zote soap, her viral plea to Juan Orlando Hernandez was not trending topic among those who continue to make videos of themselves bathing with Zote soap and those critical of her “unappreciative” behavior.
Despite mixed responses, #LadyZote’s video portrays the limitations of the program “Honduras Solidaria” and the overall governmental response to the coronavirus pandemic that has been unable to relieve Honduran’s hunger.
“The president does not suffer, he has food at home” #LadyZote said to the camera at the end of her viral video. There is a sense of urgency for people like her.
“He has a full refrigerator” she states, “we eat shit.”