On Monday and Tuesday, thousands of Hondurans in the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa, took to the streets to protest legislation that would privatize healthcare and education. The protests were meant to be peaceful, but they took a violent turn when protesters began throwing rocks at police, and police used tear gas. The mayor’s office was torched in flames during the protest. Today, during May Day or Día del Trabajador, the protests continue.
“The first strike was against the eradicating of the estatuto del docente. Now we see this idea of privatizing education, to bring in privatizing healthcare as well,” said Suyapa Portillo, an associate professor at Pitzer College and a Latino Rebels contributor. “This is where people drew the line because the citizens are under the real pressure from this coup government.”
The estatuto del docente was an article added to the country’s constitution during Manuel Zelaya’s presidency that guaranteed certain rights to students and teachers. Teachers took to the streets when the current government threatened to undo the piece of legislation in 2011. To Portillo, it’s tied to the current protests as it was one of the few wins of the previous government, before a U.S.-backed coup led to the installment of Juan Orlando Hernández. The current protests are also being led by educators, students and those in the medical field.
— NB (@notibomba) May 1, 2019
“Politicians are always after something,” said an activist interviewed by Notibomba. “This struggle is to also call on young people because it’s in our hands to make a better Honduras.”
“The context within which this is happening is once again the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, which illegally re-elected himself in 2017, through fraudulent means. The answer [within his government] to improve things is to privatize everything. They’re also getting money from banks, and the World Bank and pressure from all these different entities to privatize. So for example, electricity has been privatized,” Portillo said. “There’s this idea that’s been pushed by neoliberals in Latin America that if you privatize, you’re going to improve services, but really what privatization does is create a gap between the extreme poor and the rich.”
The government put a pause on the proposal following the protests.
Some have said that military forces have infiltrated the protests, which is what resulted in violence. Former president Zelaya, the democratically-elected president who was ousted by the U.S. close to 10 years ago, posted a tweet denouncing this act.
Ante las potentes protestas del pueblo contra la privatización de la salud y la educación, recurren a la infiltración de PARAMILITARES con orden de disparar, para culpar, con el eco de algunos medios, al PUEBLO que se defiende de la dictadura de “JOH” y sus leyes criminales. pic.twitter.com/AC6GfycmQ4
— Manuel Zelaya R. (@manuelzr) April 29, 2019
“In poor, lower class neighborhoods, it’s really hard. Classes are crowded,” Portillo said. “We’re talking extreme basic needs. In schools, for instance, the rural villages in the outskirts of the city, schools lack meriendas. The president is supposed to provide rice and beans for merienda. Some of these kids, working-class kids, they don’t have money for breakfast or lunch so the merienda is really critical at school and part of the reason why Honduras is reliant to international agencies to provide meriendas, or utensils for the kids.”
Portillo said that likewise, privatizing hospitals could lead to better healthcare but with a caveat.
“When you privatize hospitals, there’s not better services rather what there are better services for those who can pay, and then those who can’t, die in the streets as opposed to dying in hospitals,” she noted.
Though some streets were closed following Monday and Tuesday’s protests, it is reported that more than 300,000 people joined in the Dia del Trabajador march today.
Amanda Alcántara is the Digital Media Editor at Futuro Media. She tweets from @YoSoy_Amanda.