Outraged in Honduras: The Paradigm of a New Social Movement

Jun 12, 2015
8:21 AM

You can read the Spanish version here.

Honduras has never been well-known, rather simply thought of as a small Third World country and not much more than a name on a world map. Yet the levels of violence, the death toll, a proliferation of gangs and gang activity, and an increase in organized crime and drug trafficking have given us a place in the world record books, especially when referring to levels of insecurity and violence.

However, in recent years, this small country has gained fame for the sacking of its natural resources, coup d’états and scandalous acts of corruption perpetrated by public officials in the state institutions. The corruption, say some experts, has reached such alarming levels that it is considered normal and nobody is shocked by it.

But the most recent scandal involves the National Party of Honduras, a political institution of which the current president is a member, which has looted, among other institutions, the Honduran Institute of Social Security (Instituto Hondureño de Seguridad Social, or IHSS) of more than seven billion Lempiras (about $318 million). This has provoked a social mass, who have been oft considered overtolerant and pacifists, to go to the streets in an outrage. these stolen millions have meant the death of least 3000 Hondurans due to medical care and medicine that no longer available at the IHSS.

Honduras has once again made news. In the international news, on social networks, and wherever public debate appears, the discussion centers around this territory, and these government officials, companies and executives who participated in the looting of state coffers and established a voracious and murderous dictatorship motivated by greed and envy. It is from this reality that the Honduran people have gone to the streets, bearing torches, to reclaim the rights that have been stolen.

Streets to Make a Democracy: Torches to Light the Way

The fate of a country is not in the government that runs it, but in the citizens that live there. Governments fail. They fail in their structure, in their functionality, in their ability to promote, defend and guarantee human rights. They fail to create institutional order or allow for conditions so that people from all spaces and diverse backgrounds can participate. When a country fails in these elements, it fails to be a democracy. If it fails to be a democracy, it assaults the dignity of the people who inhabit their land. In addition to the aforementioned, states fail when they are not capable of dialoging with their citizens to find a way to make a better country, when they administer as if the country were a private estate, and overall, when they don’t have the capacity or the will to deal with corruption that corrodes public offices and officials.

The Marchas de las Antorchas, (or the torch marches) in Honduras, which have been lit at a national level and to my liking appear to gain more strength with each new march, are the clear expression of our failed democracy. The political class (the national business class, and the transnational political and economic sectors) have distorted a democracy that is based on social welfare (and social transformation), and instead formed one inspired by outright lies, by the looting of the public treasury, social discrimination and by the denial of justice, freedom and other rights that are guaranteed in the Constitution of the Republic, and international declarations related to the Derechos Económicos, Sociales, Culturales, (herein after known as the DESC, or the International Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the ESCR-Net).

For that reason, when the fate of a country is dependent on broken social institutions, and is in the hands of unscrupulous, corrupt and cynical leaders, the streets provide an outlet, a space for the dialogue that has been denied, and a place to air frustrations. The streets become a way which leads to the reconstruction of a country that includes the defense of social justice and demands a punishment for those responsible for the country’s failure. For this reason, masses of Honduran people are in the streets, and for this reason, with them there is the hope of forging a new nation.

Why Are They Called the “Outraged” and Who Are They?

There are thousands of people in the streets of Honduras, using various sayings and slogans, under a high-waving flag bringing honor to those who carry it. Thousands of people are gathering in the streets, raising their voices above the horns and motors of cars, and breaking the media blockade of a press that will not cover the people’s grievances. They yell, “I came because I wanted to, nobody paid me to be here,” “You aren’t a president, you’re a delinquent!” and “No more corruption!” These are the cries of the disgruntled, of those who want to reclaim democracy and of those who want to use their rights to demand a better society.

This is why these young people, adults, men and women, marching alone and with friends, colleagues and family members who fill the streets of every corner of Honduras are called indignados: outraged. They are outraged at the corruption and outraged at the hypocrisy of a political party that took funds and looted the Social Security Institute of Honduras. The torchbearers are outraged at the corruption—they question those waving flags of honesty, an honesty that has not been maintained through the actions of public administrators and government officials. The flags of political parties and radical ideologies have not given citizens the possibility to be part of a new dynamic of struggle which the current situation has now generated. When they ask who is planning these marches, there is only one answer: We are the outraged. We are people who organize ourselves, a multitude that follows the multitude, and we advocate for a democracy that is created in the streets, guiding a democracy that is defended in the streets.

It is a movement that is sui generis, multidisciplinary and inclusive. It is a movement that renews itself at each moment and does not allow any marcha de las antorchas to be like any other that came before it. It is a process of building that is both permanent and gradual, and that has been defining itself since an act of corruption was perpetrated on one of the most sensitive institutions of civil society—the Social Security Institute of Honduras. But the movement aims at something larger, taking as its objective a fight against corruption until there is a complete renovation of the democracy and a consolidation of the rule of law and social welfare. “We go to the streets,” insisted a man participating in a march with a torch, “because each one of the torches represents someone that has died because of the failure of the Social Security system, assassinated by our corrupt leaders and their acts of corruption.”

But this is also a movement of consensus and tacit agreement, where different social classes (with the clear exception of the national parasitic bourgeoisie), have joined together to unite their voices, where the energy of youth and the experience of the older generations have united to move forward, and where the world of art and culture have joined with the intellectuals to give it form. That is to say, this is a movement that can be, clearly and perfectly, understood as an interclass, interdisciplinary and non-partisan space, that brings many together under one flag, to fight against corruption and impunity, and to found a better country.

¿Cuál es la ruta? What Is the Way?

In all of the manifestations and marches, there is only one answer to this question, an answer that I will not offer, but instead challenge everyone to answer for themselves as an exercise in imagination. Even so, I dare not think that this goal is sufficient if we are talking about refounding our democracy and repositioning our state to guarantee the rights of the DESC, rights that we should have under national and international law.

The route, or the way forward in the current context is not clear for everyone who has been marching. Defining a route and a way forward has been prompted by the most recent crisis, and that has turned it into a route of risk, and each step forward can be unsteady. The route, or the way forward, is not simply the resignation of public servants (which is sufficiently justified in the case of the current president of Honduras). If this happens, the structure and scope of the current government’s manipulation and corruption would end up putting another equally corrupt person in place of the old one. Instead, we first need to recover the rule of law, allowing for the powers of the state and the state institutions to function in total freedom and without manipulation from special interest groups. We need them to function without the parasitic dictatorships that have been installed and perpetuated in a rigged and fraudulent electoral democracy under the banners of political parties and the force of the media who are paid by them to sing the same song. The route, or the way forward, is and will always be the street, from where we will take the power, organize participation and redefine Honduras The people have never been given anything, Everything has been earned in the streets and under threat of repression. This is why the dissatisfaction of those participating in this movement, many of whom are the youth of this country (even as some old dinosaurs want to deny their youthful presence), should prompt them to channel their energy into making sure that from this street, and from those streets where you are, the seed of the a new participatory democracy can grow, a democracy that permits the birth of a new state in which fundamental rights are guaranteed, and in which the people hold the sovereign power that has been constitutionally granted to them.

The route, or the way forward, is in the capacity that we have to articulate and build a national agenda that respects diversity, and that has the ability to energize the movement and beyond, that uses the youthful creative force to spur more actions and impact citizens, and prompt the government (finally) to listen to us and to have a Constitutional National Assembly, from which we will build a new country.  The torches are symbolic of the energy of the movement, and like the flame of each torch, the movement will eventually use the fuel and burn out. If the movement’s agenda, driven by a collective and binding group, does not ensure articulation and further action —as long as the situation functions as the fuel— the torches will burn out.

The route, or the way forward, is not only to think, but also to generate the processes of political formation that allow everyone to be involved in the paths of the torch. One that allows everyone who gets involved to be able to see another interpretation of reality, and that allows everyone to define a new structure for the country, and in the definition of a state of social wellbeing that has as its central axis, in practice and in law, the dignity of human beings. This political and ideological training is necessary for the masses of the youth fighting against corruption today, because tomorrow and in the near future they will be the pillars that sustain human dignity in Honduras and love for our country.

Central America and Latin America in This Context

The youth didn’t just begin to protest, as some of the analysts would like us to believe, nor are they there as part of organized crime, drug trafficking, and gangsters like the government supporters say, in an effort to distort the true dissatisfaction behind the protests. The youth of today, those who carry these torches, are those who were born in an era of coup d’état, ongoing fraud, the looting and selling of public institutions, the loss of public spaces and the denial of their basic rights as citizens.

For this reason, the youth forge a path that can be placed both chronologically and geographically alongside other actions and their consequences in the region. For example, the Zapatista armed uprising in Chiapas in 1994, the coup d’état in Honduras in 2009, the M19 (indignados) in Spain, the student movement in Chile for public education in 2011, the scandal against los falsos positivos in Colombia in 2012, the struggle in defense of the Normal (teaching) schools in Guatemala in 2012, the massacre in Iguala Ayotzinapa, the fight against the corruption in Guatemala. And now, among others, we have the marchers with the torches against the corruption in Honduras 2015. This unrest in Honduras is not capricious nor is it new, nor is it senseless youthful rebellion. Instead, it is a synchronized force reacting to the failure of the promise of Western democracy that triggered the tectonic plates of youth that like volcanoes, awaken in every region of our beloved Central and Latin America.

It is evident, then, that this is a force of Latin American resistance and outrage against a monstrous, voracious and inhuman system that privileges the market over human beings. It is consolidated for the benefit of a small, spineless, elite political class through which North American interference puts forth its agenda. Their cooperation with the government, by offering projects, makes the problems of the government less obvious. It is against this monstrosity that the fight is being carried out with youthful force and patriotic outrage, in some areas by carrying torches, and in other with the banging of pots and pans.

On the other hand, this horrific situation offers a double standard. It has been used in Honduras and Paraguay to justify coup d’états, yet in Guatemala and Honduras it is used to call out corruption, even as it is a corruption that through intelligence forces, they already know is happening and permit it when it is convenient from them. To ignore the power of this interference in the current events happening in this region is unacceptable, and criticizing this reality locally, while ignoring the regional context is like trying to mark a wide path with narrow steps.

We are, therefore, prompted to somehow fight against corruption, because the international agenda does not inspire any confidence in the people by distributing funds to current government officials. The old and tired song of an alliance for prosperity and the appealing chorus of the thousands of millions of dollars given to the three countries in the northern triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) are not accidental. For that reason, and in this moment, we see that there is a double standard: they already realize they cannot plant on land where they will not get the fruit from the harvest. This is not to say it will be this way forever. The problem, it seems, is that if we are not able to articulate and offer a way out, one which is larger than the resignation of one public official, we will be simple pawns in a world game of chess, played by the spokesmen of the murderous capitalism that governs us.

A Little Culture Doesn’t Hurt

In the streets, they have recently lit other interesting torches, based in the possibility of an art culture that would reclaim social dignity. A great degree of satisfaction comes from seeing that the marches end with concerts instead of partisan talk.

The outraged have given a distinct twist to traditional street manifestations, and have opened them to music, poetry, and graffiti, among other demonstrations. But these forms have not lost the main message: they continue making art that is protest art, and even though it is not from my generation, and even though it’s not always expressed in a way I would prefer, they continue with the message.

It has been interesting to hear them sing, dance, recite poetry and include cultural aspects in the manifestations. This, without a doubt, has made it possible to attract people who have never been part of a popular struggle in the streets. However, it is important to note that some of the artists who most traditionally represent the national culture of Honduras are not present in this cultural diversity, nor are those people who before now promoted their ideological positions through Facebook and Twitter. However, it is no wonder, and as one youth participant of the marches said, it is beautiful to write poetry in the name of the poor, because you find more than one bourgeois, a bourgeois that loves the culture that reminds him that there is poverty in the world, through which we can be connected through art.

A Few Last Words

I would like to end this sequence of thoughts by enumerating some concerns and preoccupations that these events provoke, and the interpretation that I arrive at each time I participate in one of the marches.

Recently, I have noticed the emergence of individual and institutional interests from each of the participating sectors. With that, the spontaneous dialogue and agreements are ending because of the appeal of wanting to be part of the five or ten thousand people. If we don’t find a way to counteract the fissure, the wall the struggle has built may break.

I have sensed professional jealousy of those of us, who have always been in the fight and those who are just now emerging on the streets. There is still a kind of power struggle, where those of us who are experienced (protesters) feel it more than those who don’t have experience, and the taste of threat presents itself in the same what that the system of the dreadful current political class sold us and made us live in a culture of fear. I am absolutely convinced that this is what is causing the National Party and its leaders, led by the current president, to try to break up the struggle, divide the message and end the new social resistance that has taken back the streets.

It scares me that the media, linked so strongly to the bourgeoisie class (that just yesterday denied the existence of the Marchas de las Antorchas) are broadcasting them today. I’m worried because these types of dictatorships, in Honduras and in the entire region, are so cynical and atrocious they would trample their own interests to ensure the maintenance of the same structure for the future. They use our videos but they say what they want. They put up our photographs of the marches, but they write what is convenient for them. The problem —the real problem— is that we are not responding to that reality.


Finally, I worry that we are not making a big enough effort to include all sectors of society. The call continues to engage strongly with and to use the social networks. But the people that aren’t on those networks (let alone those have don’t access to technology), the poorest of the poor are still not marching and still have not lit up the torch against corruption. Society, as we have said, is made up of all of us, and the outrage, as we have also said, lives in all of us, no matter which lens we see reality through, or which trench we confront it from.

Only in unity is there strength.


Héctor Efrén Flores is a lawyer who works for an educational foundation in Honduras. He is also a regionally published poet and essayist in the resistance against oppression. You can follow him @hefrenf.