June 28 marked the 10-year anniversary of the coup that ousted the democratically elected President, Manuel Zelaya. This precipitated a series of political crises and a dramatic decline in the country’s human rights situation that catalyzed a broad-based citizen’s resistance movement. Since the fraudulent elections in 2017, nationwide protests have grown around the demand for President Juan Orlando Hernández to step down. Just two months ago, nurses, doctors, teachers, and students created a new formation in the ongoing resistance called the Platform in the Defense of Health and Education. As a coalition, they’re protesting privatization measures that would have led to massive layoffs and demanding improvements to the country’s failing health and education sectors. Though the government hoped to appease protestors by backing down from initial proposals, repressive police and military tactics have only fueled citizen mobilizations demanding the president’s resignation. We spoke with JASS Mesoamerica’s Daysi Flores to hear the latest.
June 28 marked the 10-year anniversary since the 2009 coup. What’s the latest in Honduras?
Daysi Flores (DF): 2019 began with renewed resistance. For more than 1 ½ years, what most people consider an illegitimate government has been in power. Not only were the November 2017 elections fraudulent, but back in 2015, this same president stacked the courts to invalidate the ban on presidential re-elections, severely undermining the Constitution. Essentially, Hernández used the courts to solidify his power, allowing him to illegally run again. This judicial decision shocked Hondurans, especially since the single four-year term limit was one of the justifications for the 2009 coup. Making matters worse, the MACCIH (the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras) uncovered massive corruption implicating senior officials in the administration. To top it off, Tony Hernández, the president’s brother, was arrested on drug charges in the United States in 2018, potentially involving the president. These are the cumulative events fueling protests and the outcry for resignation.
It’s important to put these events in a global context as well. In 2018, migrant caravans that originated in Honduras dominated the (U.S.) headlines, generating political protests about family separation at the border and drawing attention to how U.S. policy fueled the crisis in Honduras. While the humanitarian crisis along the U.S. border unfolds, in Honduras attention has shifted in 2019 to the wave of national strikes over the last nearly three months led by the Platform in Defense of Health and Education, a coalition of around 18 unions and organizations led by nurses, doctors, students, and teachers fighting for improvements in both sectors. With rampant corruption and miniscule budgets, education and health are both in disarray. Babies in neonatal wards sometimes have to sleep in cardboard boxes, pharmacies lack life-saving medication, and schools do not have safe facilities and even have asbestos. The state has essentially given up its mandate to offer public services like free public education.
The Platform mobilized on the streets at first in response to the government’s plans to restructure the health and education ministries that would lead to mass layoffs and undermine union organizing. Although the National Congress reversed course due to the strong opposition, President Hernández issued two executive orders that declared a state of emergency in public health and education. He too rescinded the orders in response to public pressure and is now calling for a national dialogue in an effort to buy some time.
But this government-led dialogue excluded the Platform, and simultaneously, the government unleashed armed police against citizen protestors. To our surprise, the riot police unit – the Cobras – also went on strike for a pay raise and in solidarity with the protesters (a strike that lasted only 3 days). The government responded by sending the army against protesters, and so far, at least three people have been killed. A few weeks ago, a 17-year-old boy was shot and killed during a protest in Yarumela, La Paz. We still don’t have a lot of information about how this happened. On June 22, the military police opened fire on students from the Autonomous National University of Honduras, injuring five. The armed forces had no legal right to even enter the university, let alone shoot at students!
All in all, these events feel remarkably reminiscent of what happened after the 2009 coup.
What are the protestors and leaders hoping to achieve?
DF: The Platform has nine demands, including: demilitarization, a publicly televised dialogue, investigation into all the deaths and injuries during the protests, an international mediator, and reinstatement of all health and education employees (including teachers,
doctors, and nurses) fired as a result of the decrees. The leaders of the Platform proposed an alternative citizen dialogue to directly involve the people most affected by the ongoing crisis, not only in the capital but across the whole country. All sectors, even the government, have been invited, including feminists, and this – the real dialogue – is happening within movements and civil society. Right now, many different sectors are hosting their own meetings and assemblies to discuss how to keep working on solutions.
How are women involved in this movement?
DF: Women are front and center in all of the protests, particularly given the dominance of women in the health and education sectors. Two of the Platform’s most well-known leaders are women: Dr. Suyapa Figueroa and Dr. Ligia Ramos. They’re both political outsiders. I met Dr. Figueroa, President of the Colegio Médico (Medical College of Honduras), earlier this year while getting a cup of coffee! She’s witty and funny, and told me, “I don’t have any background in organizing; I’m just a nobody who knows what they are doing is wrong.”
You can see that their leadership is different; it’s a model of collective and shared leadership. They’re not the only ones speaking to the crowds or representing the Platform. There are always other people included, and when the media invites them for interviews, it’s not always the same person talking.
Feminists have also answered the call to join the Platform’s alternative citizen dialogue. We’re trying to make sure that our key demands are included. These include the reversal of the ban on the morning-after pill (which was the first right taken away after the 2009 coup), the total abortion ban, decriminalization of midwifery, sexual and reproductive education, and women’s health care. A few weeks ago I joined many “feminists in resistance” who I marched with in 2009 – Femiñangaras – to protest the corruption and impunity of JOH’s government. We brought sanitary pads that we painted red and shouted, “This is the only blood we want flowing in our country!”
How is JASS responding to the crisis in Honduras?
Our team in Honduras is interviewing protesters on the streets and distributing their voices and analysis on social media. This is key because the mainstream media has not been covering what’s happening. We contribute with our analysis of the ongoing crisis to mobilize and support urgent actions by international and local organizations. You can follow us @JASS_Meso on Twitter and Facebook for the latest.
How can the international community support activists on the ground in Honduras?
Don’t forget that the U.S. officially supports the fraudulent government in Honduras, which is responsible for the outrageous corruption, criminal actions, and violence against civilians. People are in the streets because either we protest or we leave the country. While President Trump complains about Central American migration, his administration has supported the violence of the JOH regime including through military aid, which is part of what fuels migration. U.S. citizens in particular should stand in solidarity by calling your Members of Congress to denounce both the repression and the treatment of people at the border. Ask your Member of Congress to sponsor and support the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which would suspend U.S. security aid to Honduras. Here’s the congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121.
What do you think will happen next?
DF: It’s impossible to predict. What is certain is that Hondurans, despite having spent the last 10 years in political and economic crises under an evolving dictatorship since the 2009 coup, are still standing with our heads held high and with courageous women standing up for a whole country.