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Despite repression, teachers struggle against coup

Published Nov 1, 2009 11:13 PM

It is dangerous to be a teacher in Honduras. In an interview with members of the U.S. delegation to Honduras on Oct. 7, Berta Oliva, director of Cofadeh, the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Tegucigalpa, said that the military coup has revived the army’s death squad, Battalion 3-16, the paramilitary group responsible for torture, assassination and disappearances in the 1980s. Oliva, whose spouse, professor Tomás Nativí, was disappeared in 1981, said a significant percentage of the coup’s “selective assassinations” have targeted teachers who are on coup leader Roberto Micheletti’s “death lists.”

Cofadeh reports that Roger Abraham Vallejo Soriano, a 38-year-old teacher, was shot and killed during a protest on July 30. Mario Fidel Contreras, 50, who worked as a high school teacher and a professor at the National Pedagogical University in Tegucigalpa, died of two gunshots to the face fired by two men on a motorcycle. Contreras was the sub-director of the night school at the Jesús Milla Selva Institute. The Michelleti regime murdered them, according to Oliva, “for the crime of being teachers in the Resistance Movement.” Both were affiliated with the COPEMH, the College of Professors of Education of Honduras, which has been called a pillar of the Resistance in Honduras.

On Sept. 22, eight policewomen arrested Agustina Flores López, a 50-year-old educational management teacher. The police beat her, screaming, “You are the dogs of resistance! It’s good that you should be f—ked up!” (e-mail from the Emergency Committee against the Coup in Honduras) According to Cofadeh, deposed President Manuel Zelaya called López “the first woman political prisoner” of the coup.

Juan Barahona, the leader of the Honduran Resistance, spoke at the funeral of Jairo Sánchez, a union leader shot by police on Sept. 23. Barahona said that on Oct. 19 the Resistance learned of another teacher assassination, that of Eliseo Hernández Juárez, a member of the Resistance in the municipality of Macuelizo and candidate for vice-mayor in the Department of Santa Bárbara. (dickema24.blogspot.com)

Why are teachers in the Resistance Movement?

Dirian Beatriz Pereira, a middle school teacher and COPEMH member, told the U.S. Labor, Community and Religious Delegation to Honduras that teachers are “the spinal cord of the movement.” They face an educational system which is among the most backward in Latin America and the Caribbean. (usaid.gov) Illiteracy encompasses more than half a million people in Honduras, which is the equivalent of the entire population between 15 and 40 years old. According to the United Nations, barely 32 of every 100 students finish primary school without repeating grades. (globalexchange.org)

Honduras continues to be the country with the lowest secondary school enrollment rate in Latin America, according to USAID. Honduras has only had public education since 1957. Many children leave school permanently to work. This was the case for their parents before them and has contributed to the intense levels of poverty for more than 80 percent of Hondurans.

There are serious inequalities between the rural and urban youth and between low and moderate income families. In many of the rural areas there are no actual schools; children attend classes under trees and lack basic educational materials such as books and paper. Only 43 percent of children enrolled in public schools complete the primary level. Some teachers have up to 80 children in one classroom. (U.S. Library of Congress, Country Studies)

Like teachers everywhere, Honduran educators want better schools for the children. That is why the main institute of teacher training, the Francisco Morazán National Pedagogical Institute in Tegucigalpa, is a center of the Resistance and why the teachers union, COPEMH, is in resistance to the coup.

The Micheletti dictatorship has cut back on the already paltry national support for education in Honduras and has deliberately stopped paying teachers since the coup began on June 28, though other public employees have received wages. In response, and sometimes joined by their students in the streets, teachers have been on strike three days each week.

The Micheletti dictatorship has indicated its intention to end school one month early, on Oct. 30, in order to remove the teachers from their centers of activity, separate them from the students, and militarize the schools, placing soldiers inside of elementary, middle and high schools all over the country in preparation for the sham elections scheduled for Nov. 29. COPEMH has condemned the shutting of the schools as illegal.

In Honduras, teachers have been organizing for 30 years. They look to countries in ALBA—the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas—such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba, which are dedicated to improving the lives of children and youth and to building excellent educational systems. That is why Honduran teachers are in the Resistance.

The writer was a member of the U.S. Labor, Community and Religious Delegation to Honduras, which visited the country Oct. 8-12.