Saturday, March 28, 2015

Protesting State-led Death Squads & Repression Against Students

On Thursday, March 26th, a protest took place in Tegucigalpa led by university students and supported by various supporters of the FNRP. The protest was called to express outrage about the death-squad style murders of four high school students including 14-year old Soad Nicolle Ham Bustillo. 

Photo caption: Banner reads from left to right, "no to death squads" and " long live Soad Nicole Ham Bustillo"

Banner and signs carried by protesters expressed the sadness and outrage about the murdered students that had been involved in protesting poor conditions in public schools including lack of adequate supplies and under-funding, and reforms that attempt to privatize public education. 

Photo caption: banner carried by students reads "Old JOH [acronym for President Juan Orlando Hernandez] son of a bitch" repeating the words of Soad Ham screamed into the microphone of a newsbroad caster from TV Globo days before she was brutally murdered.

Photo caption: Protesters marched to the Presidential House but were met with a strong military and police presence that blocked off the road and prevented protesters from continuing. 

Photo caption: sign reads "Justice for Soad Nicole"

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Education Crisis in Honduras: Protests in Streets & Four Students Involved in Protests Killed Last Night

Photo caption: High school students protest and fight the repression from state forces, Vicente Caceres Central Institute, March 17, 2015.

Right now, Honduran university and high school students are protesting against various reforms the Honduran government is attempting to implement in public education. Police and military are firing tear gas at University students that have occupied the National Autonomous University (UNAH) in Tegucigalpa and the press is reporting that four students have already been arrested, some beated. University students are protesting in solidarity with high school students that have taken to the streets and been repressed by state forces for days.

Photo caption: Protests in the National Autonomous University, March 2015

Since Monday, March 16th, high school students from various public schools in at least Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and Intibuca have taken to the streets to demand that the Ministry of Education stop the implementation of extended class times that would require the students to stay in classes until 7:00 pm in the evening. High school students are against finishing classes late in the evening given the extreme levels of insecurity in the country. The extended class times would also eliminate night classes, an essential program for students from low-income families that must work during the day to support their families and pay for their education.

In San Pedro Sula right now, normalistas (high school students training to be teachers) are protesting the closure of normales which would require students aspiring to be teachers to pay for expensive secondary school education and/or migrant to urban areas to attend university given limited access around the country.

Last week, during a protest on the streets in Tegucigalpa near the high school Vicente Caceres Central Institute, two high school students Darío José Cabrera and José Luis Ochoa, were shot at and injured by a private security guard located near the protests. The Honduran press is now reporting that the body of a 13-year old female student was found earlier this morning, wrapped in sheets and dumped on the side of the street. The student had been involved in the protests at the Central Institute the previous day and was found murdered after never returning to her home after the protests. Late last night, the Honduran press reported that three high school students from the Institute Jesus Aguilar Paz in Tegucigalpa, were violently killed after leaving their night classes. Today, students from the same Institute joined others across the country protesting the deaths of their two compañeros, demanding justice and an end to the government's policies.

These reforms are fundamentally linked to privatization and decentralization efforts led by the International Financial institutions (IFIs) such as the World Bank, the InterAmerican Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and USAID. Efforts to privatize primary and secondary education picked up pace after the June 2009 military coup in Honduras that was sparked by a "crisis" in the teacher's pension institution (IMPREMA). In response to the "crisis", the Honduran government together with the IFIs demanded reforms to public education around the country and approved the Fundamental Education Law that significantly reduced the collective power of teachers federations and making widespread change to public education. The new waves of protests around the country are a sign of further consolidation of the neoliberal reforms that the government is attempting to implement.

For background on the IFIs' role in education reform in Honduras and repression against teachers and students following the coup, see here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

IMF Neoliberal Structural Adjustments = Increased Unemployment Rates For Public Workers + More Poverty in Honduras

Late last year, 1600 members of the Workers’ Union of the National Electrical Energy Company (STENEE) were illegally suspended by the Honduran government. Tomorrow, the workers that were suspended and not reintegrated since then, are required to present themselves at their corresponding workplaces around the country.

Uncertainties about the status of their jobs are high and many workers expect that tomorrow they will be formally laid-off, similar to what occurred with approximately 550 suspended public workers from the Honduran Telecomunications Company (HONDUTEL) in February 2015. On February 5th when suspended HONDUTEL workers presented themselves to HONDUTEL offices around the country, Honduran military stood at the gates of the buildings while each employee were directed individually to a line of lawyers and HONDUTEL management requesting their resignation in exchange for receiving a severance package within one year. Many refused the offers given the illegality of the suspensions and the unwillingness of HONDUTEL management and the government to negotiate.

Photo caption: Lawyers and HONDUTEL management waiting for suspended workers to fire them after months of being suspended. February 2015.

Photo caption: Military guarding the gates of main HONDUTEL building in Tegucigalpa, February 2015.

Public sector unions and their bases have been told many more suspensions will follow in addition to at least two thousand that have already occurred since late 2014 and the 7,000 announced for 2015 alone. STENEE has been told that after tomorrow (March 24th) an additional 1000 ENEE workers will be laid off as well.

The Honduran government has been pushing through various laws in accordance to its commitments to implement strict Structural Adjustments - mostly concentrated in healthcare, pension fund management, national institutions like ENEE, HONDUTEL and the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS), and education - required under the loan signed in early December 2014 with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Structural Adjustments aim to eliminate the role of the central government in education and healthcare, and open public institutions to the private market, amongst others.

Photo caption: Signs reads "we reject the neoliberal projects of JOH [President Juan Orlando Hernandez] and the IMF. Taken during an FNRP/LIBRE protest, January 27, 2015.

The lay-offs of public workers come shortly following a high-level IMF visit to Honduras to evaluate the first three months since the loan was signed in early December 2014. The IMF delegation announced its approval of the recent macroeconomic and social policies implemented by the Honduran government despite the outcry from various public sector unions, indigenous groups, and members of the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP).

As privatization sweeps through countries as diverse as the U.S., Canada and Honduras, the IMF plan for Honduras will have dramatic impacts not only on public sector workers but also on Honduran society. With the implementation of the Structural Adjustments, impacts will include increased energy prices and the elimination of energy subsidies for poor families, thus contributing to growing economic and social inequality. Over 59% of the population lives in poverty and 36.2% in extreme poverty. In fact, Honduras is one of the poorest countries of the Western hemisphere and the most violent in the world.