Honduras: cops attack striking teachers —again

Honduran police arrested some 150 people while using tear gas and water cannons to disperse a demonstration by teachers, students and others in Tegucigalpa on Aug. 27, the 23rd day of a strike by teachers over their pension fund and other issues. The protest, which blocked Central America Boulevard for three hours, was called by the Federation of Teachers Organizations of Honduras (FOMH), which includes six unions, and the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition that formed last year to oppose the June 2009 military coup against then-president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales.

“We had to repel violent aggression and remove the protesters,” police commissioner Mario Chamorro said in a press conference. “And we almost immediately released the detainees.” The police said the demonstrators burned tires, set up barricades and confronted police agents with clubs, rocks and firebombs. The Associated Press wire service reported that masked teachers fired rifles and revolvers and broke car and shop windows, although it was not clear whether the AP correspondent claimed to have witnessed this or was citing police sources.

The unions and the FNRP said the police attacked the protesters “in a savage manner,” launching hundreds of tear gas grenades indiscriminately against protesters and bystanders. Agents clubbed protesters and charged into the nearby Francisco Morazán National Pedagogic University (UPNFM), where they searched classrooms for protesters. The operation was directed by Deputy Police Chief Rene Maradiaga Panchame, accused by human rights organizations of participating in the notorious Battalion 3-16 death squad, which disappeared around 100 people during the 1980s. “Before, the sicarios [hired killers] hid themselves—now they don’t,” said Berta Oliva, coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH), a leading human rights organization.

It was not clear how many people were injured by the agents or affected by the tear gas. Protesters charged that two public institutions, the School Hospital and the Social Security Hospital, turned the injured away without treatment. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Aug. 27 from AP; Red Morazánica de Información, Aug 27, via FNRP website)

Negotiations to end the strike, which affects some 2 million students, had broken down on Aug. 26. Apparently the government and the unions largely agreed on a settlement under which the government would make overdue payments to the teachers’ pension fund, the National Institute of Teachers’ Social Security (Inprema), that have accumulated since 2007. The teachers estimate that the fund is owed some 3.7 billion lempiras (about $194 million). A union leader, Edwin Oliva, said the stalemate was over interest rates and scheduling for the payments, while Planning and International Cooperation Minister Arturo Corrales, the lead government negotiator, said the problem was the unions’ demand for President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa to negotiate the removal of Education Minister Alejandro Ventura. (EFE, Aug. 26, via Terra.ar)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 29.

See our last post on Honduras.