Hondurans have had enough of the corrupt, violent and anti-people government of Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH). On May 30 and 31, people in towns and cities across the country mobilized and blocked most of the major highways against the government’s decrees which threaten public sector health and education and could pave the way for further privatisation of these services. The mobilization was spearheaded by the Platform for the Defense of Health and Education which brings together 18 organizations and trade unions from the health and education sectors.
The mobilizations saw the people revolt against a government that was elected through blatant fraud and continues to make a dignified life in Honduras impossible. The cries of “Fuera JOH” (Out JOH) were heard throughout the mobilizations and the slogan was graffitied on walls across the country.
The numerous mobilizations were met with heavy police repression. At many places, security forces fired at protesters with live bullets. Many of the videos from the various points of mobilization showed the police resorting to excessive and disproportionate force against the largely peaceful protesters. In the city of Siguatepeque in the Comayagua municipality, a protesting teacher was shot with a live bullet and lost a kidney.
In Choluteca, human rights defenders were brutally beaten up by security forces
Riot Police march in Tegucigalpa to repress mobilizations.
On May 30, in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, thousands of doctors, clad in scrubs and white coats, health care workers, students, and teachers participated in a massive mobilization that paralyzed the city. Protesters marched to the Toncontín International Airport and a dump truck unloaded rocks and dirt which blocked the principal entryway. In response, the police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters, but their repressive action backfired as the tear gas drifted towards the airport where hundreds were waiting for flights. The passengers were shifted to the tarmac to prevent them from being exposed to the gas, and as a result, most morning and afternoon flights were cancelled.
Tires were set on fire in front of the main entryway to the US embassy in Tegucigalpa on May 31 by hooded and masked people, though many protesters suspect that the action was carried out by infiltrators.
Defending health and education
The Platform for the Defense of Health and Education has raised concrete demands for the health and education sectors. With reference to the former, they are demanding that the National Congress repeal the Legislative Decree Number 58-2015 which contains the Law of Social Protection. They are also seeking the repeal of the Executive Decree of the Presidency of Ministerial Council (PCM) 026-2018 which calls for the creation of a Special Commission for the Transformation of the National Health System.
In the area of education, the organizations are demanding the elimination of the Executive Decree PCM 027-2018 which creates the Special Commission for the Transformation of the System of Education.
The platform has identified these decrees and measures as mechanisms by which the government will transfer the administration of public health and education to private hands. The same has already taken place many other sectors in the country. They also have pointed out that the government signed agreements with international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, and is under pressure to cut public spending in order to access the loans.
The movement to defend health and education in Honduras has been gaining momentum for the past several months. At the end of April, the Honduran Congress passed the Law of Restructuring and Transformation of the National Education and Healthcare System. Public sector health and education workers said this would promote the privatisation of the health and education systems in Honduras. The law called for and permitted the cancellation and termination of contracts and posts. After the law was passed, health care professionals, teachers, students, doctors and citizens took to the streets en masse to reject the law and on April 30, the National Congress of Honduras announced the nullification of the controversial law.
Though this victory was celebrated, the organized sectors pointed out that the mere nullification of these two decrees did not go far enough to rectify the deep issues in these two sectors due to the systematic corruption and budget cuts.
The public health system in Honduras, for example, is in a deep crisis. There is a shortage of medicine, medical supplies, laboratory services, and the buildings themselves are decaying due to lack of investment. Despite treatment in public hospitals being free, patients are often forced to pay out of their pocket for supplies and medicines.
These conditions have arguably gotten worse since the coup d’état in 2009 and the succession of hard-right rulers who have gutted what remains of the public sector enterprises. They have also permitted private players to exploit many of Honduras’ mountains, rivers and natural resources through commercial contracts.
JOH has been one of the most despised presidents in the post-coup period. The people’s anger against him soared in 2017 when he illegally ran for re-election and committed blatant fraud in order to score an electoral ‘victory’ against the opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla. The electoral fraud was the catalyst to a popular insurrection which lasted several weeks and saw over 80 points of blockade and mobilization across the Central American country.
The anger and resentment at JOH and his conservative National Party, which has no qualms in committing blatant fraud, corruption and drug trafficking, continues to build. The contradictions have become very severe. While thousands of Hondurans are forced to flee their homes due to violence, lack of opportunities in employment and education, and poverty, the oligarchy siphons money from the public sector and imposes mega-projects in the territories which displace communities and further threaten their survival and the survival of the environment.
Only two days before the strike was set to begin, a US court released a document which revealed that Juan Orlando Hernández has been under investigation by the US Drug Enforcement Agency since 2013 for potential involvement in “large-scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities relating to the importation of cocaine into the United States.”
The Platform for the Defense of Health and Education called for the people of Honduras to continue the mobilizations on June 1 in defense of the public sector and against the national government.