You could be forgiven for thinking, as you read development blogs and articles, that we are all on the same side. You're likely to read about partnerships, win-wins, and technological breakthroughs. Disputes and conflict? Those are on the international relations pages.
Development, it is implied, is about managing things better, coming up with good ideas, all working towards the common goal of poverty eradication, as agreed by our heads of state.
Wrong. Development is political. Almost all of my friends who are involved in development in poor countries are also engaged in politics, whether at grassroots or national level.
Progress against poverty may sometimes be a "win-win" (such as better ways of organising industry, technological advances in health or energy), but very often it involves a "win-lose": win for the poor, lose for the wealthy (although they win in the long term from living in a more equal society and world). That means that rather than supporting development efforts, those with power and wealth often fight to keep what they have, rather than see it distributed more fairly.
This becomes most obvious when violence is involved. Let's take a recent example. The 2009 coup in Honduras, in which the elected president Manuel Zelaya was removed at gunpoint, was covered as a foreign affairs issue by the international relations experts in the media commentariat.
Two years on, and another group of experts from the development sector look at the Honduran statistics for health, education and overall poverty as we look at progress towards the millennium development goals. Two parallel discussions take place, when the issue is really one and the same. In Honduras, as in most countries, it is not aid, or internationally-agreed targets, or bright experts turning up from the west with good ideas about trade policy, that are going to make a difference for the poor. It's politics, stupid.
The coup ringleaders claim that they acted in the interests of the people by scuppering plans for illegal constitutional reform. This is, of course, nonsense. They acted to prevent the redistribution of wealth and opportunity.
Honduras, home of the famously low-wage maquilas, or factories, which produce 65% of its exports and make the country so attractive to multinationals, is incredibly unequal. In 2005, the richest 10% earned 47% of the country's income, and that isn't even looking at land and asset wealth. In 2006, after a year of Zelaya's government, they only earned 42.4%, still very unequal, but a step in the right direction, with the poorest 10% earning 2.5%, up from 2.1%. (These statistics and others further down come from the Center for Economic and Policy Research).
In 2001, according to World Bank-supported think-tank Sedlac, more than 64% of Honduran households lived below the poverty line. In 2005 it had reached 66%. But two years into his administration, Zelaya had brought poverty down to 60.2 percent. Still high, but moving in a good direction.
Against strong opposition, including a tense legal battle in the courts, Zelaya increased the minimum wage (the lowest in Central America apart from Nicaragua) by 60%, and even then it didn't cover the basic basket of goods considered necessary to escape poverty.
He abolished school fees, allowing up to 450,000 more children to go to primary school, and oversaw a 25% increase in children receiving free school lunches (about 200,000 extra kids). In a country of only 7 million people, where over half are under 18, you can see how significant these numbers are. No wonder Zelaya became so popular with the poorest sectors of Honduran society.
Perhaps this was government largesse, unsustainable in the longer term? Was the economy faltering? No. Urban unemployment fell from 6.5% in 2005 to 4% in 2007, according to the Consejo Monetario Cetroamericano. Economic growth averaged 5.6% in the first three years of Zelaya's tenure, faster than the previous administration.
So what has happened since the coup? Growth has stalled and the economy is now in recession, shrinking by over 3% last year. This is down to a combination of a recession in the US, a key trading partner, the drying-up of loans from governments and organisations that do not recognise the present regime, and the impact of stringent security controls to keep unrest in check – Jesus Canahuati, vice president of the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America, estimated that the five-month curfew imposed by the de facto regimecost the economy $50m per day.
In today's Honduras, development is a civil rights issue. To protest about wages or labour rights, education or health standards, is to be at risk of reprisal. The opposition claims that 50 people have been killed for political reasons since the coup. Land occupations by poor farmers, which were under negotiation in the Zelaya administration, were met with a military response under interim leader Roberto Micheletti, with dozens of arrests.
Meanwhile, the energy that civil society and NGOs should be put into reducing poverty is spent on fighting simply to have a voice and to stave off reprisal and recrimination. The same old elite is reasserting its grasp on Honduras, preventing a fair distribution of land, wealth and the trappings of slow economic progress.
What should be done? The Brazilian government, mindful of the precedent set by the Honduran coup in a continent historically beset by coups, insists on the full establishment of human rights and the return of Zelaya to public life. What is really needed is an open debate drawing the poorest into a discussion about the future of the country. Predictably, this is not high on the present regimes to-do list. Instead, the elites fight over the spoils.
The challenge for those of us living outside Honduras is to discover we can do to help the country develop and reduce poverty. There are a number of answers, but, please, don't say more aid.