Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Interview with TeleSUR English about Honduran 'Indignados' Movement

[MY NOTE: I didn't choose the title and as I outline in the interview, there are sectors of the movement that do have a very solid structural analysis]. This content was originally published on TeleSUR English's website

By: Heather Gies

Photo caption: Torchlight march on Friday, August 21st involving mostly student groups and members of the FNRP face the Honduran police as they guard the house of the Vice President of Congress, Lena Gutierrez who faces criminal charges for frauding the IHSS.

teleSUR: Some, including Ariel Varela – described as a movement leader in the Honduran press – are calling what’s going on in Honduras and Guatemala a “Central American spring.” Do you think the current movements constitute a kind of “spring” in the region?

I can only really speak about the context and protests in Honduras, and not what is occurring in Guatemala. The dominant discourse of the indignados movement in Honduras attempts to give the impression that some sort of Central American "spring" is occurring in Honduras, citing that Hondurans have woken up, want change, and are demanding the resignation of Juan Orlando Hernandez. It’s unclear why the leaders of the indignados movement would call this a "spring" since Hondurans and specifically, Indigenous, Afro-Indigenous, campesinos, women, and the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) have been on the streets and in their own territories demanding a transformation and refounding of Honduras through a Constitutent National Assembly since the 2009 military coup. This demand remains in some spaces but has been drowned out by the dominant and not-so-structural analysis of the indignados movement.

Since the post-coup marches in the few years after the coup were not deemed legitimate by the U.S. and the Honduran elites, it is suspicious that the right-wing media, the oligarchs, and the U.S. are now calling the torchlight marches and actions of the indignados movement legitimate, peaceful and democratic expressions of outrage via these weekly protests.

Many in Honduras have been resisting injustice for years amid what's been seen as a crisis of democracy in the wake of the coup. Why has has discontent boiled over at this moment, bringing thousands to the street in recent weeks, even though underlying issues of impunity have been longstanding?

This is the million dollar question. Why now?

What are the central demands of the current movement and the tactics for achieving them? Do you see these sufficient demands and effective tactics? If the demands currently being made by the “indignados” movement are met, what would be the outcome for Honduran politics and people?

The central demands of the movement are the installation of an International Commission against Impunity (CICIH), the resignation of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and investigations into the involvement of the Assistant Attorney General and Attorney General in the looting of the Social Security Institute (IHSS). Although in the last few weeks, the latter two demands have not been as present in the discourse of the indignados movement as it has previously.

I do think that small victories against impunity can be made through the installation of a International Commission against Impunity, but such a Commission is not a solution to a corrupt system that is rotten from top to bottom. Corruption is inherent to neoliberalism and impunity facilitates further perpetuation of both. Corruption and impunity are necessary in seeing that the interests and continued domination by the Honduran elite, transnational companies, the international financial institutions, and the U.S. and Canadian governments continue unabated. Unfortunately, the dominant discourse of this movement is not discussing or being critical of the neoliberal model and instead through its demands implies that corruption and impunity can be “dealt with” or resolved by a CICIH. The challenge of some sectors of the indignados movement is how to deepen the analysis to incorporate a more structural understanding of corruption and impunity, and incorporate it into their movement's demands.

Although the leaders of the indignados movement have said they won't participate in a dialogue facilitated by representatives of the Organization of American States, they did attend some of the meetings when the OAS representative was in the country last week. Months after the 2009 coup, the social movement/Resistencia/FNRP learned an important lesson about dialogue and negotiations facilitated by the OAS. They learned that the OAS served to whitewash the crimes of the Honduran government or the golpistas while facilitating the normalization of relations between Honduras and the “international community” that had rhetorically (not necessarily practically such as in the case of the United States) cut off relations with Honduras because of the coup. I have little faith or trust in the OAS's and for that matter, the U.S.'s intentions in this dialogue process.

Who constitutes this current movement and its leadership, and how it organized itself? Does the diverse alliance of left, mainstream, and even right-wing elements undermine the movement’s potential to achieve radical reforms?

The indignados movement does not have a structural analysis that examines corruption and impunity in the context of neoliberalism, the power of the Honduran elite, and the role of the U.S. and allies in Honduras. For that reason, their demands are not "radical" enough to get to the root of the corruption problem. Because of this, they may achieve small victories, but nothing close to what the social movement after the 2009 coup were fighting for and demanding.

For me, it’s crucial to analyze and contrast the current indignados movement with the post-coup social movement/Resistencia/FNRP. This current movement does not even come close to the structural, transformative demands of the post-coup movement. This may be because the social movement is at a different moment now, and/or because the "traditional" social movement (ie. post-coup movement) have been joined by sectors of the political opposition such as the right-wing and golpista Liberal Party, the anti-corruption (PAC) party, as well as the LIBRE party in the streets. Together, they seemed to have identified a clear enemy: the Juan Orlando Hernandez government.

Unfortunately, the dominant discourse of the indignados movement is being carefully controlled by sectors that are not traditional nor "radical" elements of the social movement and in fact, some have been clearly identified as being aligned with the U.S. Embassy. These elements include the State Department-funded NGOs Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) and Alliance for Peace and Justice. "Traditional" social movement groups (for a lack of a better description) view these sectors of the indignados movement with deep suspicion and mistrust, and for a good reason.

You have said that the coup consolidated political and economic power in Honduras to bring on a wave of privatization of public services, land, and resources. How is this linked to the corruption scandals recently brought to light that sparked the movement in the streets?

The corruption scandals are 100 percent linked to the consolidation of political and economic power in Honduras under neoliberalism. Take a look at what happened with the Social Security Institute (IHSS). First, it was looted by the National Party and their cronies, then while investigations of the corruption were actively ignored, it was privatized under the structural adjustments of the International Monetary Fund. Today, amidst the scandals and the protests, the IHSS and its services are being auctioned off to private companies. The same process occurred with the teachers’ pension funds in the institution IMPREMA shortly after the coup.

As I said previously, corruption is inherent to neoliberalism and necessary for the further consolidation of political and economic power through privatization processes in Honduras. The dominant discourse of the movement discusses corruption as a problem but not these privatization processes that have been under way for years.

How much presence or visibility do radical resistance activists and their demands have in the movement? Does the movement at large share your analysis and make the connections between the political economic outcomes of the coup and government corruption?

I think it is one of the biggest challenges for the "radical" resistance activists. They are attempting to push the indignados movement to a deeper analysis. The hunger strike that ended on July 31 was an attempt to do this. The strong and ongoing student involvement in the indignados movement is another attempt to do this, although the students are facing what is being portrayed by the media as isolated repression and criminalization which I believe is likely related to their more radical involvement in the indignados movement.

Unfortunately, the dominant discourse of the indignados in the mainstream media excludes the analysis of some sectors of the same movement to remove the more structural critiques of corruption. This obviously serves the interests of the powers that be.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Systematic Murder and Corruption in the Honduran Social Security Institute

On May 8, 2015, Honduran journalist David Romero of TV Globo published evidence of a huge corruption scandal in Honduras. Confirming what many already speculated, Romero displayed copies of bank checks that had been written in 2012 to the National Party of Honduras, the political party currently in power. The checks had been signed by shell companies created to launder over $300 million dollars from the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS) via fraudulent contracts and overvalued services. The blatant robbery of millions of dollars from the IHSS had left the national healthcare service in shambles with fewer diagnostic abilities, equipment, and little or no medication.

Photo caption: Lighting 3,000 candles in memory of Doña Teresa and those that died because of the corruption in the IHSS. Tegucigalpa. Photo by: Unknown

The IHSS was privatized in May 2015 as a result of its intentionally depleted condition and services in its hospitals and clinics around the country, and under the strong recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Its suspected that the stolen money was used by the National Party to win the 2013 elections that both the U.S. government, Organization of American States, and the European Union had deemed fair, clean, and democratic.

When Romero broke the story about the corruption scandal in May 2015, many sectors of Honduran society and the political opposition came together to form the indignados [outraged peoples] movement. Carrying torches in the streets during weekly marches, the indignados movement show their outrage for the high levels of corruption in the government, and are demanding the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez and the formation of an International Commission against Impunity (CICIH).

Photo caption: In the torchlight march in Tegucigalpa. Sign reads, "New IHSS law made with faith of a rat." Photo by Luis Mendez

It is estimated (albeit by a U.S. State Department-funded organization), Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) that approximately 3,000 Hondurans died in the IHSS as a result of the corruption. This number has not been verified or investigated by a government institution but the Honduran media have consistently reported the alarming conditions of the IHSS, once one of the best series of hospitals in the country. Family members of people that have passed away in the IHSS have given testimony to national and international media outlets describing the sickening way in which their family members were not attended to, lied to, or sent home to die.

MARCH 9th, 2015

We got the news of her death around eight o’clock in the evening as Edwin, her son, and I were reading the newspaper and relaxing. When Edwin answered the phone, he wasn’t told what was happening, just that he needed to get to the IHSS hospital.

Earlier that same afternoon, we stood beside Doña Teresa’s bedside in the IHSS hospital in Tegucigalpa. Doña Teresa’s spirits were up, and she seemed much livelier than previous days. We took turns feeding her soup broth and juice, rotating every 5 to 10 minutes since we were only given 30 minutes, twice a day, one person at a time to see her. The doctors and nurses told us she was stable – her blood pressure and heartbeat were back to normal. She had not been diagnosed with anything. Her family had brought her to the hospital because she had been fainting and refusing food.

The doctors told us that her condition had improved and that she would stay in the observation room only until a bed was available on the fifth floor where she could fully recuperate before being sent home. The nurses had tied her down to her bed – both wrists and ankles – telling us that she attempted throughout the day and night to leave the hospital. It hurt a lot seeing the red pieces of cloth around her arms and legs, but trusting foolishly in the advice of the doctors, we allowed it, not realizing until later, that maybe she had been trying to escape for her own reasons.

The hardest part about Doña Teresa’s death was how the doctors lied and misled us. Thinking back to the week that she was in the hospital is tormenting and painful. A list of maybes run through my head, followed by a deep, unsettling feeling of regret. Maybe we should have drilled the doctors more with questions. Maybe we should have taken her somewhere else. Or even physically picking her up off of the bed and taking her home to protect her to whatever they did or didn’t do for her in the hospital. Doña Teresa was 69 years of age with no diagnosed condition.

Photo caption: Doña Teresa

After unexpectedly receiving the call from the hospital that night, we went directly to the hospital. The doors of the emergency trauma unit were open when we arrived. Edwin’s sister was already there, standing at the nurses’ station in the middle of the unit, slouched over, head down, screaming and sobbing loudly. “I just saw her …. my God … I cannot believe it.”

Edwin, who I went to the hospital with, rushed over to his sister, drawing the conclusion about what had happened to his mother. He stood beside her, head down, holding his sister who was crying and screaming between breaths. For a few minutes, he froze and stared at the wall until anger and outrage hit him.

“Nobody says anything – they steal millions of lempiras from us .. from the hospitals, and no one says anything”, Edwin yelled out loud, in the middle of the emergency and observation rooms in the hospital. I didn’t know what to say. I looked around the large area where the nursing station was located, and into parts of the attached rooms where people were on hospital beds and stretchers. It felt wrong being there, and worse as everyone looked up to stare at Edwin yelling and his sister wailing. He was right, but no one had anything to say. The whole scene was awful, unfair, painful, and unforgettable.

After about 5 minutes, the security guard directed us out to the front of the hospital. We stood outside for a while, making phone calls, crying, and figuring out what to do. Edwin and I left together to buy a coffin and prepare for the funeral. His nephews waited at the hospital and gathered their grandmother’s belongings from the staff.

When we returned to the hospital with the casket, we were taken to the morgue. Doña Teresa’s body had been wrapped in a white sheet and her body lay on a metal table inside one of the small rooms along a long corridor. The security guard accompanied us.Edwin went first into the room, his nephews and I followed. The men from the funeral parlor rolled the casket on the right side of the metal table. With one at each end, they began lifting her body using the ends of the sheet, into the casket when the security guard stopped them.

“You cannot take the sheet” he said. “What?” responded Edwin, “how are we supposed to lift her?” And then spit out “How is it possible that the cachurecos [National Party] can rob millions of dollars from this hospital but we cannot even take one sheet to wrap my mother’s body in?”

“I’m sorry,” said the guard, “it’s the rules. We aren’t permitted to let people take the sheets.” Pissed off at his response and upset, Edwin, his nephews and I used the sheet to cover his mother’s body while we lifted it into the coffin in the presence of the security guard, and the two guys from the funeral parlor. We gently unwrapped the sheet from her body and left it on the metal table. The coffin was then wheeled out to the car.

The wake began two hours later and lasted two nights and one full day straight, as per Honduran customs, until we took Doña Teresa to be buried next to her youngest son that had been killed the previous year. It was an incredibly sad few days reflecting on her life and the way that she had died in the IHSS hospital. Her treatment and death inside the IHSS was one of thousands of mostly poor and middle class, affected by the intentional and malicious ransacking of the social security system.

Less than two months later, the huge corruption scandal hit the media but Hondurans like Edwin were already indignado or outraged. They had experienced the impact of the scandal first hand either by losing a family member or being turned away and told that there were no medications in the hospital’s pharmacies. Two months after Doña Teresa died, the Honduran National Congress approved the Social Protection Law that privatized the entire IHSS system. Working class women like Doña Teresa in the future will likely have to make co-payments to receive medical attention of lesser quality than what existed before the IHSS was deliberately depleted.

For me, its hard to blame the hospital staff and the doctors in the IHSS for her death, even though I know that we were lied to and misled. Other families have given public testimonies outlining similar experiences, lies, and false information they received in the IHSS about the health status of their loved ones. For me, so much of what happened to Doña Teresa was a consequence of deep inequity, corruption, and impunity entrenched by powerful national and international interests. Standing by her bedside, I also came face to face with a settled and firm conviction and understanding of the deep unsustainable nature of what is happening in Honduras, and in a more general sense the global economic system. For some reason that feeling although painful in the moment, gives me hope for the future.

Photo by Luis Mendez

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Development for Who?": ZEDEs & Community Struggles

I'm sitting close to the pier in the small community of Amapala on Tigre Island in Honduras, an island surrounded by the Golf of Fonseca. The island is located in southern Honduras and I can see Nicaragua and El Salvador from the pier. The island may be a potential site for the first ZEDE (Zones for Economic Development and Employment) in the country.

The ten communities on the peninsula of Zacate Grande are facing imminent eviction as rumours in the Honduran media report that the South Korean government has delivered a feasibility study for the ZEDE. Zacate Grande is attached to mainland Honduras and may become the location of a bridge that attaches the rest of the country to Tigre Island. Large regional and national land owners including the Malespin and Facusse familIes are pushing strongly to remove the communities of Zacate Grande from their territory despite living on the land for decades, knowing that land prices will skyrocket once the government finds international investors to finance the ZEDE project.

Caption: On the wall of a house in the community of Playa Blanca in Zacate Grande. Painting reads "development for who?" The owner of the house has been called to appear before a judge next Tuesday as a large land owner claims ownership to the land where his family's house and farm land are located. He has a fabulous view of the beach and the Golf of Fonseca from his modest front porch.