by Karen Spring
Last Thursday and Friday (Aug. 26-27), police and military violently repressed public school teachers who have taken to the streets for almost 3 weeks to demand, among other things, that the Pepe Lobo regime return 4 billion lempiras – some 200 million dollars – that were taken from INPREMA, an institution that manages teachers’ pension funds, after the military-oligarchic coup against President Mel Zelaya on Jun. 28, 2009.
The 6 teachers’ unions that form the umbrella organization FOMH – representing 63,000 teachers nation-wide – believe that the funds taken from this institution were used to fund the military regime after the coup headed by Roberto Micheletti and General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, which repressed and terrorized the pro-democracy movement critical of the coup and its perpetrators.
The education system in Honduras has been in crisis for the last 4 months, particularly in August when university students occupied the National Autonomous University (UNAH) demanding the reinstatement of 180 workers fired from their positions and the resignation of the university director, Julieta Castrellano. Five fired workers remain on hunger strike on the university grounds, some now surpassing 126 days without eating.
During the occupation of the university, police attempted to enter the grounds and were run off by the protesters. The stand-off between the students and police occurred while the U.S. State Department’s Maria Otero was visiting Honduras to investigate the human rights situation, another attempt by the U.S. government to whitewash human rights violations such that Honduras might be readmitted to the Organization of American States (OAS).
Although the university students and the public school teachers have different immediate focuses and demands, they both claim that the form in which the Lobo regime is handling the teachers’ struggle and the education system in general reflects the oligarchic-governmental desire to privatize the public education system in Honduras.
This massive teachers’ strike converges with and complements the ongoing struggle of the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP) as well as the preparatory stages of a mass general strike involving the three major umbrella unions to which all unionized Honduran workers belong: the Unitary Confederacy of Workers of Honduras (CUTH), the Confederacy of Workers of Honduras (CTH),and the General Head Office of Workers (CGT).
Three days of harsh repression against the teachers
Last Friday, Aug. 27, teachers were violently evicted twice from the area around the National Pedagogical University, first when they occupied the boulevard and second when teachers were regrouping and meeting inside the university.
Police arrived to the university, located across from a business shopping centre, with 2 water tanks and fired more than 100 tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at the teachers and members of the resistance movement in and outside the university grounds. Protesters were chased and beaten with no regard for the presence of children and the public in this busy area of the city or for the peaceful form in which the teachers were protesting.
From a black Toyota four-runner parked on the street in front of the university, a man opened fired at the protesters with a 9-millimeter gun. Although no one was shot, the car was later identified as belonging to the National Congress.
Over 100 people were captured and ‘guarded’ by police against a fence outside the university. They were later released after human rights representatives arrived and negotiated with the police. Many teachers and resistance members were trapped inside classrooms, where they suffered from severe exposure to tear gas. Over 7 people were injured from the gas and from police beatings, including a journalist from Globo TV/Radio Globo.
On Thursday, the previous day, teachers had been violently evicted after occupying a street close to the Presidential Palace in Tegucigalpa. Six teachers were reported injured from tear gas and police brutality.
These two days last week were merely the icing on the cake to the violence inflicted against the teachers’ movement on Aug. 20, when police and military again evicted the movement and brutally beat 3 union leaders and a teacher, who had apparently been pre-selected for said treatment and whose locations were apparently indicated to police by individuals who had infiltrated the marches.
The major media outlets owned by the oligarchy meanwhile continue their campaign to portray the teachers as violent elements unconcerned with education in Honduras.
At the writing of this article, the teachers are gathered in their daily assembly to discuss an agreement recently negotiated between the government and the leaders of the teachers’ movement. The teachers will announce today whether they accept the proposal or not.
Karen Spring is a journalist with Rights Action. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.