By MARGARET VILLAMIZAR
June 28 will mark ten years since the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was kidnapped and forcibly removed from office and from Honduras in a U.S.-orchestrated military coup d’état. Zelaya has said the main impetus for the coup was his government signing on to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America (ALBA) in 2008 — something the U.S. could not tolerate. ALBA had been founded four years earlier by Venezuela and Cuba as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas being pushed at the time by the U.S. The coup forces quickly installed their own de facto president. A few months later through a fraudulent election that was boycotted by the majority of Hondurans and carried out under conditions of state terror aimed at suppressing the people’s resistance to the coup, a representative of the National Party, entrusted by the U.S. with implementing its neo-liberal agenda in the country, was brought to power. Two electoral coups followed — in 2013 and 2017 — putting current president Juan Orlando Hernández of the same party in office, then handing him an illegal second term. Despite ample evidence of fraud, especially during the November 2017 election, the results were quickly accepted by the U.S. and Canada. This ensured that the Honduran people would once again be prevented from electing a government of their choice and would have one imposed on them by foreign interests, mainly U.S., intent only on plundering the country’s natural and human resources and using it as a strategic military base to threaten and carry out aggression against the sovereign nations and peoples of the region.
In spite of the perfidy of the last ten years, the people of Honduras have never resigned themselves to the fate assigned to them by the rancid oligarchy of their country and the foreign masters they serve. Following the coup, the people’s forces immediately mobilized and organized themselves in opposition to it, and have remained in action ever since, forcefully asserting their rights under the most difficult of circumstances — deteriorating living conditions, with 65 per cent of the population now living in poverty and 40 per cent in extreme poverty, the systematic violation of human rights, insecurity from the terror of targeted and random assassinations, the militarization of their country and violent repression for daring to oppose the neo-liberal dictate of the coup governments.
The last ten years have also seen the concession of territories to foreign mining companies, the concession of rivers for extractive and hydroelectric projects of national and foreign capital, eviction of the Indigenous Garifuna people from their ancestral lands to open up new areas on the Caribbean coast to the tourism market, bankrupting of state enterprises and their subsequent privatization (telephony, electricity, water, ports and airports, hospitals and clinics, with banking groups buying up many of the former public health care facilities). With the Free Trade Agreement Canada signed with Honduras in 2012, Canadian companies are among those that have cashed in on this agenda facilitated by the successive coups.
The rallying cry that since the stolen election in 2017 has come to symbolize the people’s rejection of all this and their determination to get rid of the illegitimate president who helped deliver it is “Fuera JOH!” (Juan Orlando Hernández, Out!).
As the tenth anniversary of the coup approaches, the people’s resistance and fight for their democratic rights has gained steam and broadened, taking on important new dimensions. One of the forms this is taking is a sharp fight being waged by doctors and teachers in defence of the people’s right to public health care and education. For almost two months now, unions representing doctors and teachers working in the public health and education systems, organized as the Platform for the Defence of Public Health Care and Education, have engaged in a nationwide strike initiated in opposition to decrees passed by the government calling for the “restructuring and transformation” of the national health and education systems — understood to mean the privatization of both.
The teachers and doctors have been joined in the streets and outside schools around the country by students, parents, private school teachers, nurses and other hospital workers, taxi drivers, transport truck operators and many others to demand the government address their concerns. For periods of time during the past week the country has been reported to be paralyzed, with roads blocked and transportation and commerce of all types halted. The response of the government has been to order the police, and increasingly the military, to attack the demonstrations with tear gas and fire live ammunition at people to force them to disperse. Several young people are reported to have died from bullet wounds, with more than 20 being injured since the strike began. The persecution of leaders of the movement has increased with Twitter and Facebook closing down accounts and spreading lies about their whereabouts so as to disorient the resistance movement which is gaining momentum.
While continuing to back up their demands with strike action, organizations that make up the Platform have taken their political fight in defence of public health care and education to a new level. On June 18, they held the inaugural session of an Alternative Citizen’s Dialogue on Public Health Care and Education, which they convoked to involve not only members of the teaching and medical professions, but students and parents, patients and community members generally to join in discussing and designing a comprehensive plan to improve the national health and education systems which they say are grossly underfunded and have been allowed to deteriorate to an extent that is deplorable. Hundreds of people showed up at the Medical College of Honduras, which hosted the event. Organizers consider it to have been a resounding success. Invited national and international experts, diplomats and two deputy ministers sent by the government as well as social movements from around the country were among the overflow crowd in attendance. Earlier, the Platform had rejected a government attempt to split their ranks by holding a “dialogue” and signing an agreement with a hand-picked group of doctors and teachers but not representatives of the Platform’s leadership. Speaking at the inaugural event, President of the Medical College and Platform Coordinator Dr. Suyapa Figueroa said the fight of doctors and teachers was a fight of the people of Honduras, arising out of their actions to demand health care and education as basic rights, instead of commodities in the marketplace, which she said they had become under the existing corrupt, outsourced system.
The Platform has announced that the Alternative Citizen’s Dialogue will continue for at least five weeks, with members organizing discussions at schools, hospitals and clinics in all parts of the country, after which a report with the findings will be released. It has also announced a set of demands, including that any future dialogue with the government must involve all the Platform’s organizations and be transmitted live on television and other media. Others are that military and police forces immediately be withdrawn from those communities where they have been repressing community members defending their right to health care and education, and that there be an impartial investigation to determine those responsible for the deaths, injuries and damages committed by state security forces in the course of carrying out these repressive actions. Shouts from the audience of The People United Will Never Be Defeated! and Fuera JOH! punctuated what Dr. Figueroa said as well as the speeches of other spokespersons.
The context in which all of this is occurring is one that favours the people, if they continue to stick to their just demands and organize to realize them by uniting in action to put an end to the dictatorship and its anti-national, anti-people agenda, keeping the initiative in their own hands. Juan Orlando Hernández, who is becoming more unpopular by the day and has to rely on the repressive forces at his command and the military might of the U.S. to keep him in power, is being abandoned even by some of his traditional backers and members of his fractured National Party. There is even speculation about a coup against him being in the works to prevent the people’s forces from winning important victories and taking revolutionary action to assert their sovereignty and remove Honduras from the clutches of imperialism. Whatever the case, the people have learned to be wary of any notions that the solution to their problems will come from anyone or any force that is not under their control and accountable to them. This is bound to stand them in good stead as they press ahead with the fight to empower themselves and realize their goal of becoming the masters of their own destiny in a new and sovereign Honduras – a Honduras whose people no longer have to flee their homeland as migrants and refugees in search of safety and the chance to make a living, and that no longer serves as a base for foreign aggression in the region but contributes to making Latin America and the Caribbean a zone of peace.
(With files from El Libertador, El Pulso, TeleSUR. Photos: T. Diaz Galeas, M.U. Fajarda)
A Trade Union, Political and Insurrectional Struggle
The medical and teachers’ unions, which were in danger of massive layoffs and budget cuts due to the pressure of fiscal adjustments by the International Monetary Fund since its visit to Honduras in March, have managed to take back the streets by demanding the repeal of the restructuring decrees in the health and education sectors. In the middle of April, the presence of both unions in the streets, accompanied by university students and the conscious citizenry, had an impact.
After the protests on April 29 and 30, the restructuring decrees had to be withdrawn by their movers: the President of the National Congress himself, Mauricio Oliva, who the day before had mocked the Opposition with his sarcastic laughter in the House, had to very soberly announce his defeat. According to some analysts, it was a double defeat for Oliva because he made himself out to be the good pupil of the IMF to demonstrate his servility to the interests behind the international financial bodies, a sine qua non of those who aspire to a presidential candidacy for parties representing the elite.
The unions united in the Platform for the Defence of Public Health and Education did not stop there, but immediately raised the need for the repeal of the emergency decrees of the Presidency and Council of Ministers (PCM Decrees), through which the executive was able to carry out massive dismissals both in education and public health. Some of these decrees had been approved in the framework of repressing the unions after the fights against the coup d’état in 2009. The mobilizations were massive, on a national scale, and enjoyed broad support from other sectors, but their expression was already different. Things have gone beyond demanding the derogation of the decrees, to citizens chanting the famous “Fuera JOH”! (Juan Orlando Hernández, Out!), embodying a political demand and the need to achieve the National Party’s exit from the Administration of the government.
In the first days of June the regime once again yielded to the pressures of the street and repealed the existing emergency decrees; but then they immediately approved new PCM decrees, (without even a meeting of the Council of Ministers), specifying that there will be no mass dismissals or reprisals against protesters, among other guarantees. However, there are ambiguities and the new decrees are dangerous, coming from a ruler who has countless times failed to honour agreements. Were they intended only to obtain a demobilization? Why, for 10 years, are public health and education in the country still being administered with Emergency Decrees? Moreover, without the PCMs in place, the Government would have to go back to the laws guaranteeing the teaching profession (Teachers’ Law) and the medical union (Medical Employees’ Law).
For its part, the Freedom and Refoundation Party (Libre) has expressed its unconditional support for the Platform’s struggle. It is keeping a prudent distance because of the enormous campaign the regime has unleashed, using all means to try and discredit the unions’ struggle, arguing that there are “political interests” encouraging social sectors to take to the streets and that “it all has to do with an opposition destabilization strategy to weaken the government.” Even so, the Libre Party’s bench has declared itself to be in a state of Legislative Insurrection, carrying out protests from the floor of the House and blocking the continued approval of laws harmful to the people’s interests.
The streets and roads of the country bear witness to another level of consciousness of the population. The people have gained confidence in their possibilities to change the correlation of forces between the oppressor regime and the opposition forces. Here it is no longer just the interests of the popular sectors, strictly speaking, at play but those of business people, the Catholic Church, other opposition parties, middle strata professionals, etc. also demanding the change or end of the government, and the need to set the country on a democratic course.
In recent days the Southern Command has reported the presence of 300 U.S. Marines in the national territory, as well as its military presence in three more countries in Central America: Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador, supposedly to assist the national armed forces in case of natural disasters. Similarly, images of military movements of the Honduran army in different parts of the country have been circulating in alternative media. Rumours and speculation have arisen: some say that “the very gringos will be the ones to take out JOH” because of his links to drug trafficking (taking into account that his brother Tony Hernández is already being tried in a court in the south of New York for trafficking tons of cocaine); others say the military themselves are planning a coup d’état, to avoid being extradited or because the military has been disrespected by the President who has skipped promotions 22, 23 and 24 of the army, placing his close friends and collaborators in the military in the high command.
In Honduras many things could happen; the lessons of the recent days of struggle point to a greater sharpening of the contradictions, especially with the Platform’s healthy insistence on continuing the popular mobilization and the enormous support in public opinion and of other important opposition forces in the country. One of the teacher leaders, interviewed in the street, showed a high level of political consciousness in his response when questioned if what they were seeking is the end of the regime: “We are the front of the masses and are fulfilling our role, now the political vanguards need to assume their historic responsibility.”
(Translated from the original Spanish by TML. Photos: G. Ríos Munguía, WWSW)