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HomeBusinessVying with vultures: Widespread poverty has some Hondurans living off rubbish

Vying with vultures: Widespread poverty has some Hondurans living off rubbish

Marlon Escoto has been rummaging through rubbish since he was 14, trying to chase off vultures while picking out pieces of plastic and fragments of metal to sell.

Ravaged by drug trafficking, violent gangs, corruption, political instability and hurricanes, Honduras sees more than half its 10 million people – 59 percent – scraping by in poverty.

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“I look after my children from here…from the rubbish,” Escoto, 59, told AFP as he stood in a sprawling dump on a hill overlooking the capital city Tegucigalpa.

He will not be leaving it anytime soon.

Escoto’s wife is in hospital and he needs to pay for her treatment. But he says his earnings from scavenging barely put food on the table.

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On this particular day, Escoto is one of perhaps 100 people picking through the mountains of garbage at the municipal dump.

Honduras will hold presidential elections on Sunday, and Escoto does not know who to vote for.

Left-wing candidate Xiomara Castro, a former first lady who leads in several opinion polls, will be trying to break the decades-long, alternating grip on power of the ruling National Party and the Liberal Party.

“Everyone has the right to vote because we’re citizens,” Escoto said. “But none of the parties have helped me. I paid for everything in my house,” he added.

Handouts, though, are common in Honduras, and they seem to spike as elections near.

A month ago, the government started distributing vouchers worth 7,000 lempiras – about $290 – per family to alleviate poverty. The minimum wage is around $400 a month, although most people work in the underground, ‘off the books economy’.

Queues of people formed to receive their vouchers as the opposition accused the government of buying votes.

“We have to see what the effects of the money dance will be,” said Eugenio Sosa, an analyst and professor at the National University. Liberal Party candidate Yani Rosenthal has also promised vouchers – worth $60 a month to each adult – if elected, without saying how he would fund it.

“Here we collect plastic bottles, cardboard, glass bottles, paper,” said Marco Antonio Cruz, 69, another recycler working at the dump. “They haven’t given us much, just enough for a plate of food,” he said.

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