Thursday, June 06, 2019

Honduras suffering and struggling

I thought of naming this blog post “Honduras is burning,” but the situation is much more complicated. Not only are the forests and fields being burned, the hope of many people are being burnt up – but something may be rising from the ashes.

So I’m calling it “Honduras suffering and struggling.”

Friday, April 26, there was a paro, a general strike, which amounted to work stoppages in several areas of public works (including health and education) as well as marches and some blocking of roads. Monday it continued.

At the end of the month of May, there were two more days of serious protests, that included major blockages of roads throughout the country. The government responded in force – with tear gas and live ammunition.

Why the protests?

The event that triggered this was the consideration by the National Congress of a “decree for restructuring and transformation of the systems of education and health.”

It’s a rather complicated issue.

Many see this new legislation might lead to major loss of jobs for those in health and education, especially since there are major pressures on the Honduran government from international institutions to cut back on public spending.

One person suggested that this will lead to the municipalization. The municipalities will get the money to deal with health and education – and when the municipality cannot fulfil these obligations they can contract this out to private firms.

What are the fears of many public workers – as well as those who benefit from public schools and health institutions: Privatization of education and health; increased politicization of employees in health and education; people employed on limited contracts and not long-term contracts and stability of work. 

There has been violence by the state – including several deaths. The opposition has not completely nonviolent – there are photos of young men throwing rocks as well as burning tires. There are also concerns about infiltrators trying to provoke violence.

If you know me, you know I am opposed to all violence but there is a great difference between a rock and pistols and machine guns.

Soon after the first wave of protests, it appeared that the opposition had achieved a temporary victory. The head of the National Congress announced that they were suspending the law, but they are looking for another way to restructure education and health care.

Two disputed decrees of the restructuring bill were retracted by congress representing an important, although partial, victory of the protesters. Teachers and medical staff still demanded the complete derogation of the bill as well as that the derogation of the proclaimed state of emergency in the two sectors that allows the government to force through laws without much public scrutiny.

But despite this action of Congress, the president seemed to deny the retraction of the two paragraphs of the bill. This provoked more protests, on May 30 and 31.

I did not witness the protests directly, but a medical brigade coming to the region from the San Pedro airport had to stop in a town in the department of Santa Barbara because of the blocked road. They saw the repression against the protestors, and even got a whiff of tear gas. They saw Honduran security forces throwing tear gas at non-violent protestors and others. They heard a report that a child had been affected and died. No wonder violence erupted in some areas. I am, of course, completely against violence, but I can understand this.

The most infamous event of the protests was the burning of tires at the entrance to the US Embassy. There are several anomalies that lead me to wonder if this was a set-up, another example of the use of agentes provacateurs by government, military, or para-military groups to discredit the protests. First of all, where were the Honduran security forces that were all over Tegucigalpa and where were the security personnel of the Embassy? Secondly, how could that great number of tires get to the Embassy grounds? There are reports of a group of Canadians and US citizens in the embassy for a meeting. A protestor – a teacher – was arrested fairly quickly and sent to a high security prison.  Some wonder if this is a set up.

The protests calmed a bit – but the opposition has not, up to this moment, joined the table of dialogue. They see it as a measure to pacify the protestors. I tend to agree with them.

I find it very interesting that the president held a press conference about midnight Sunday to announce the retraction of the articles and the new table of dialogue. He was accompanied by some representatives of the health and education sector – but no one from the group that has been at the head of the protests. The very next day there was, at least in our area, at least meeting led by the ruling party mayors on the health and education crisis. Maybe I am too cynical, but this appears to me to be part of an ongoing campaign assembling faithful members of the ruling party.

The protests are fewer – but the struggle seems to be continuing, with some sectors setting aside an hour each day to look at the situation. I think this is good, since one of the major problems that I see here is the lack of a critical consciousness. Another is fatalism, accepting what happens without hope of changing anything. And then there is the corrupt system that uses money and political favors, together with repression and increasing militarization and demonization of opponents, as ways to keep the status que and enhance the power of the governing political power.

It’s sad – and worrisome.

As the situation becomes even more critical, the use of violence by government forces has brought international and national responses. The bishop of El Progeso, Yoro, released a statement he made on Sunday. Not only did he call for the dismissal of the problematic articles, but he spoke strongly against the government use of violence. The message was addressed to the president and to government officials.

“In the face of the events that have happened in the last few weeks and those which are coming upon us, I want to invite to stop continuing provoking the people even more, so that they keep up the confrontations between the people who are demonstrating their disagreement and the military police, with the industrial sector and the whole country’s economy affected.
“It is lamentable to see many people, who, under the weight of the sun, are struggling for a cause which has to do with the good of everyone, are gassed by the police who also are part of the people of Honduras…”

It is refreshing to hear a message from a Catholic Church leader which is clear and oriented to the good of the poor and not influenced by partisan politics.

And I just came across the statement of the Honduran BishopsConference released

Writing of the current crisis, they note:
Si cada problema deriva en conflictos como el que ahora estamos viviendo, acerca de los sistemas de salud y de educación, y si cada conflicto es manejado con la misma ineficiencia, la consecuencias pueden hundir a Honduras en una crisis muy difícil de superar.Se hace aún más dolorosa y comprensible la indignación de la mayoría de la población, el sufrimiento de los más pobres, la decepción de los jóvenes, el miedo de los migrantes, la angustia de los enfermos, la impotencia frente a la corrupción y la impunidad, el cansancio de quienes luchan por una Honduras mejor sin ver resultados.  
If every problem drifts into conflicts like the one we are now living, about the  health and education systems, and if every conflict is handled with the same inefficiency, the consequences can drown Honduras in a crisis very difficult to overcome.
This is what becomes even more sorrowful and understandable: the indignation of the majority of the population, the suffering of the poorest, the disappointment of the youth, the fear of the migrants, the anxiety of the sick, the powerlessness in the face of corruption and impunity, the weariness of those who struggle for a better Honduras without seeing results.

The statement is strong and I hope to translate it soon. But how will all this be put into action – that’s the major challenge now.

No comments: