Honduran riot police threw a tear gas canister at journalists Lidieth Díaz and Adolfo Sierra from TV Cholusat Sur (Channel 36) as they were trying to film a protest by striking teachers on March 21 in Tegucigalpa, according to Channel 36 owner Esdras Amado López and other sources. Two other journalists, Radio Gualcho director Sandra Maribel Sánchez and Globo TV camera operator Uriel Rodríguez, also reported being assaulted by the police. “I was filming the military and the police when one of them fired rubber bullets, injuring both of my legs,” Rodríguez said. “Then another group of police rushed at Sandra Maribel Sánchez to take her camera.”
Some 60,000 teachers have been on strike since March 7 over pension issues and in opposition to a decentralization plan that they say will lead to privatization of the schools. An assistant principal, Ilse Ivana (or Ivania) Velásquez Rodríguez, was killed during a demonstration on March 18, apparently struck by a television station’s vehicle in the confusion when police attempted to break up the protest. Both Cholusat Sur and Globo TV were shut down at various times in 2009 by the de facto government that took power in June 2009 when a coup removed then-president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales from office. Cholusat Sur reporter Lidieth Díaz was assaulted, along with other reporters, by the Supreme Court chief justice’s bodyguards earlier this year. (Journalism in the Americas blog, March 23; Prensa Latina, April 22, via Adital, Brazil)
Police repression of the teachers’ demonstrations triggered a debate between ministers at a cabinet meeting on March 22. Justice and Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda said Honduras’ image abroad could be injured by the death of Velásquez Rodríguez and by the aggression against Lidieth Díaz, who was “directly affected by the use of toxic gases while she was carrying out work for her media outlet.” This “weakens our level of credibility which we had obtained with the members of the UN and other human rights forums,” Pineda warned. Security Minister Óscar Álvarez insisted that all the police actions were justified because of the constitutional right to travel; the teachers had been blocking roads. (La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, March 23; Honduras and Culture blog, March 23)
On March 27 President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa officially declared the teachers’ strike illegal and announced plans for docking strikers’ pay and suspending or firing teachers that don’t return to work. (Reuters, March 27; Vos el Soberano, Honduras, March 27)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, March 27.
See our last post on Honduras.