June 3 — A national strike began in Honduras on May 30 protesting a series of reforms announced by the government. The strike was called in response a series of decrees signed by the president on May 28 aimed at restructuring the health and education sectors.
The demonstrations, which continued into the next day, suffered brutal police repression. It is a scenario repeatedly seen during the administration of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH).
According to the teachers and doctors who called the strike, the restructuring would lead to massive layoffs and privatize these essential sectors.
In 2010, central government spending on education was 32.9 percent of the total budget; today it is only 19.9 percent. In public health, the figures were 14.3 percent in 2010 and are 9.7 percent today. (Prensa Latina, May 31)
Despite strong police repression of demonstrators, the president was forced to declare that there would be neither mass layoffs nor privatization, and the presidential decrees were not ratified by the National Congress of the Republic. However, organizers of the actions have indicated they will continue protesting until the reforms are completely discarded.
In addition to demonstrators injured by Honduran police, several government and police buildings are reported burned. It is also reported that a group burned tires at the entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
It is not known who initiated this fire, and reactions of progressive groups have been varied. Some claim that the action is justified, due to the recent interference of U.S. imperialism in the country. For his part, former President Manuel Zelaya described the facts as false positives.
The teachers’ and doctors’ organizations have said the strike will continue with demonstrations planned for June 3 and 4.
From the 2009 coup d’état to JOH’s dictatorship
Manuel Zelaya was president from 2006 to 2009 when he was the victim of a coup d’état after proposing a referendum to measure public interest in a constitutional reform.
Although the army, which kidnapped Zelaya and sent him to Costa Rica on June 28, 2009, argued that Zelaya was unconstitutionally seeking a second term, the real reason for the coup was the progressive foreign policy of the Zelaya government.
In 2008, Zelaya had expressed a desire to join the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), a regional organization promoted by the governments of Venezuela and Cuba to combat the influence of U.S. imperialism.
This represented an unacceptable step for the Honduran oligarchy, which had already opposed the progressive government. When they found the opportunity, these sectors used their control of the media to fabricate a constitutional crisis and carry out a coup.
Publicly, the U.S. government under Barack Obama condemned the coup, but allowed the junta to overthrow the democratically elected president. In fact, emails from Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, reveal that the U.S. government was negotiating with the coup leaders, most of whom were trained in the School of the Americas (in the U.S.) and had close ties to the Pentagon.
The U.S. then recognized the results of the presidential elections in November of that year, despite being held under a military junta. The new conservative president, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, received great praise from the Obama administration for his efforts toward “reconciliation,” despite the fact that during his term of office journalists who supported Zelaya or opposed the coup began to disappear.
The current president came to power in 2014 and has been criticized for his corruption and increased state repression against his rivals. Although the rightists had accused Zelaya of trying to run for a second term as a pretext for the 2009 coup, JOH was able to run for reelection without judicial problems.
The 2017 election was characterized by blatant fraud from JOH’s National Party. The vote count was suspended several times, in one instance for three days, and when it resumed, the opposition advantage of almost 5 percent of the votes had mysteriously disappeared.
The manipulation of the count was so obvious that even the Organization of American States, which normally serves to seal U.S. imperial decrees, condemned the fraud. Washington immediately recognized the results.
The Honduran people took to the streets to protest the theft of the presidency, which led to police repression with tear gas and a 10-day curfew. Since then, the intense struggle to restore democracy in the Central American country has not ceased.
JOH’s neoliberal offensive
When the right wing took power in Honduras in 2009, it immediately began to implement the typical neoliberal program. The objective of these elites, in service to imperialist interests, is to gut social services and open the country to the demands of the transnationals.
The current attack on health and public education would be the final blow against these services, which have been under siege for the last decade of conservative rule.
School salaries were frozen from 2010 to 2016, and since then there have been only small increases. Investment in school infrastructure is almost completely suspended.
Hospitals lack all kinds of supplies, but the budget continues to be cut, pushing up prices for families in need of medical services.
The theft of Indigenous lands has not stopped since the Spanish conquerors arrived, but under JOH it has intensified. The murder of Indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres by U.S.-trained state forces is just the most famous example of the use of state violence to push through mines and “megaprojects” against the wishes of the Indigenous Peoples who own the land being used.
If disinvestment in public services, dispossession of Indigenous territories and state repression were not enough, imperialism now seeks to create “Zones of Employment and Economic Development” (ZEDE). These areas would be “model cities” oriented toward foreign investment, controlled by a commission chosen directly by the president. These cities will have their own judicial, economic and administrative systems.
The oligarchy in its own propaganda about these cities admits that they use Hong Kong, which was founded as a British colony to control China after the Opium Wars, as a model. (tinyurl.com/y5rb3g65)
These ZEDEs imply a return to the direct colonialism of past centuries, as they are designed to serve as an entry point for transnational corporations and foreign capital. Their nominally “autonomous” system would actually turn them into colonies of American and European companies that want to operate in Central America.