Honduras: US blames protesters as repression mounts

Thousands of Hondurans demonstrated on March 30 in a “National Civic Strike” called by teachers’ unions and the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of unions and grassroots organizations. The action was called to support teachers striking to oppose an education reform plan that they say will lead to the privatization of schools. The protesters were also demanding the approval of a general minimum wage increase, a reduction of the price of fuel, and a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the country’s Constitution.

In Tegucigalpa, protesters occupied various points in the city, including the highways in front of headquarters of the militant Union of Workers of the Brewery Industry and the Like (STIBYS). “At 10:30 am hundreds of police agents and soldiers attacked us with tear gas bombs and vehicles with water cannons that were filled with a stinging liquid,” union vice president Porfirio Ponce said. “They started to beat people savagely and to chase them through the neighborhoods near our headquarters.”

At Planes, in the Aguán Valley region of the northern department of Colón, one person reportedly died in the repression, 12 were wounded and at least eight were arrested. The demonstration had started at 7 am with protesters blocking highways. Police and soldiers arrived minutes later, armed and protected by anti-riot shields.

Students at the Northern Regional University Center (CURN) in the Sula Valley were attacked with tear gas. In Nacaome in the southwestern department of Valle, police agents attacked groups of youths and arrested the local human rights prosecutor. Other arrests were recorded in Proterillos, with six detentions; Choloma, with about 11, Santa Cruz de Yojoa, with about 30. (Adital, Brazil, March 31, from Defensoresenlinea.com, Sireal, FNRP)

On March 29, the day before the general strike, the US embassy’s human rights and labor attaché, Jeremy Spector, emailed Honduran human rights organizations that had written him about the detention of Miriam Miranda, director of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) the day before. After explaining that Honduran officials said Miranda had been released, Spector added: “However, we cannot condone the frequent violence employed also by the demonstrators.” He accused the protesters of using “bottles, rocks, slings, clubs with nails at the end, and Molotov cocktails.” “Other reports of damage caused by the demonstrations are a cause of great concern for the embassy,” he went on. “That said, it seems that the majority of the injuries reported have affected security personnel.”

Spector asked for people “who have contacts with the teachers’ organization to encourage them to stop the violence and return to their classrooms.” (Vos el Soberano, Honduras, April 2)

While the US human rights attaché seemed to blame protesting teachers for most of the violence, at the Honduran government’s cabinet meeting on March 29 Justice and Human Rights Minister Ana Pineda criticized the police and military for the second week in a row. They were using tear gas “irrationally” and in violation of United Nations (UN) protocols, Pineda said. The ministers also listened to a letter from Ramón Custodio, the conservative official human rights commissioner, noting that the use of wooden clubs by the police violated the UN conventions on the use of force. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog, March 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 3.

See our last post on Honduras.