Tegucigalpa Before 8 AM on Monday morning we were greeting Jaime Rodriguez, the President of COPEMH (Colegiio de Profesores de Educacion Media de Honduras) in the parking lot of the Colegio and teachers’ union. Even as the lights left us in darkness drinking our sweet coffee in a sky lit waiting room, he told us stories that were shockingly current and contradicted the notions that the civil wars of the Honduras-Michelleti golpe government had ceased against its own people and their social institutions.
During the coup to usurp the elected government over the last several years in Honduras, the teachers unions had been among those in the forefront of the resistance and demand for a return to democracy. This period, hardly more than a year ago, saw several teachers involved in the almost daily marches in Tegucigalpa killed, one right on the street where we had exited the cab for this meeting. More recently in March in a protest against the government’s announcements of educational “reform” four teachers in march were brutally beaten by police. These were fresh wounds.
Rodriguez explained that the so-called reforms essentially were an effort to privatize the state educational system. Despite the constitutional guarantees of education and their definition of the state’s responsibilities to provide it, the government had ordered the educational system to be decentralized to the municipalities. Most municipalities not having the experience, resources, and capacity to actually provide education for the children would be forced to subcontract or privatize the system. A similar scheme had been seen several years before around water resources leading to privatization of water in many areas (see blogs from San Pedro Sula earlier this year). Around this same time teachers were already raw about millions that turned up missing from their pension programs being maintained by the government.
In the protest against these “reforms” 302 teachers were fired. In reaction teachers’ unions have launched a rotating huger strike maintained by five strikers at all times. We visited with the hunger strikers and listened to their moving stories, while standing under a tent where they were living, now evicted from their homes as well, but firmly planted in front of the Congress buildings.
All of this was coupled with frontal attacks on the union itself. In the “reform” effort the government declared a “state of emergency” in the educational systems thereby asserting extraordinary powers similar to what one would find in general martial law. In this emergencia the government suspended the right to strike (allowing it to fire strikers like the 302!), stopped all dues checkoff in this process on the transitional claim that the teachers were no longer state employees, and took other steps to defund and break the teachers’ unions. Rodriguez explained how the membership had dropped from 25000 in March 2011, hardly two months ago, to less than 2000 now who were paying dues by hand at the window next to the waiting room where we were huddled in our meeting.
Shockingly to Rodriquez and others, their story has not gotten attention, making their fight even harder. ACORN International’s board will take up a resolution of support on Friday and hold a press conference to announce our decision, if affirmative, but in the meantime this is a crisis that needs investigation and action. Now!