From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The Student Movement Standing Up to the Honduran Regime
Date August 19, 2019 12:00 AM
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[It’s been ten years since a US-backed coup installed a
repressive neoliberal regime in Honduras. Now, a student movement has
emerged to challenge the government’s agenda of privatization and
militarization.] [[link removed]]

THE STUDENT MOVEMENT STANDING UP TO THE HONDURAN REGIME  
[[link removed]]


 

Tom Sullivan
August 17, 2019
Jacobin
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_ It’s been ten years since a US-backed coup installed a repressive
neoliberal regime in Honduras. Now, a student movement has emerged to
challenge the government’s agenda of privatization and
militarization. _

Students protest in front of a line of riot police outside the
Congress building in Tegucigalpa on April 30, 2019, Orlando Sierra /
AFP / Getty Images

 

Ten years have passed since the democratically elected center-right
president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was removed in a military coup.
On the same day of a referendum to create a National Constituent
Assembly that sought to rewrite the military dictatorship’s 1982
Constitution, Zelaya was whisked away to Costa Rica still in his
pajamas. Observers across Latin America, watching nervously to see how
President Obama would respond to his first real foreign policy test in
the region, quickly had their hopes for a shift in US policy crushed.
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were quick to legitimize
the coup and call for new elections that in Clinton’s words
[[link removed]]would
“render the question of Zelaya moot.”

Clinton has defended
[[link removed]] the US role in the coup
by arguing that to declare it a “coup” would have forced the
United States to cut off all aid to the country, ultimately hurting
the Honduran people. Yet since then, Washington has found no shortage
of alternative ways to hurt the Honduran people, who have watched
their country turn into one of the most violent and dangerous in the
world.

The current status quo in Honduras is reminiscent of the days of
US-backed death squads during the 1970s and ’80s Central American
civil wars. Since the coup, a right-wing dictatorship — maintained
through an alliance between the military, landowning elites, and the
media — has increased ties with the United States while
drastically militarizing
[[link removed]] the
country. In July 2013, the regime created the Intelligence Troop and
Special Security Group. The next month in August, with a quick
amendment to the Constitution to avoid the prohibition on military
participation in policing, the Military Police was created. Even the
DEA has entered the scene, through its Foreign-deployed Advisory
Support Team (FAST) which is now conducting operations in the country.

After the brief scare that Zelaya’s self-declared “center-right”
government might bring socialism to the country — one of the
coup’s central justifications — Honduras has returned to a program
of neoliberalization. But popular resistance to this agenda has been
strong. The fraudulent reelection
[[link removed]] of
President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) in 2017 was an important
moment proving the criminality and violence of the regime: Hernández
brutally cracked down on protesters, killing seventeen. Since only
April of this year, state security forces have killed at least eight
people protesting privatization attempts to health and education.

In what is starting to look each day more like a
defining _lucha _(fight) for Honduras between a regime lacking
legitimacy and a diverse movement of street protests, the role of the
student movement has been critical. The key battleground has been the
National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) in the capital,
Tegucigalpa. With a student population of over 93,000, since the coup
UNAH has become both a symbol of government encroachment into Honduran
society as well as popular resistance against the regime. Bitter
fights have broken out over everything from administrative changes, to
attempts to criminalize student protest, to an increase of the passing
grade from 60 percent to 70 percent, which would have effectively
kicked 13,000 students out of the university. Various groups within
the movement have taken their fight all the way to the National
Congress and even the Supreme Court of Justice, which in 2015 ruled
in favor of ten students
[[link removed]] who
had been illegally suspended for shutting down a UNAH campus in
protest for sixteen days.

Student resistance first began to form in response to the 2009–2017
administration of UNAH under Rector Julieta Castellanos, a strong ally
of the regime. In the words of one student protester, “many consider
that this process of government control developed and intensified
during” her rectorship and that “this is the origin and maturing
moment of many of the conflicts of the university today.” One of
Castellanos’s first acts as rector was to fire sixty workers at UNAH
for allegedly illegally protesting on campus. When her term came to an
end in April 2013, she stayed on as “interim rector.” Meanwhile,
an act of Congress was passed to remove the rule of no-reelection,
allowing her to continue in her role. The man responsible for steering
the reform through the National Congress is now the current president:
Juan Orlando Hernández.

The student movement is diverse, accommodating a range of ideologies
and tactics. This year it has intensified as wider movements against
Hernández’s attempts to privatize the health and education sectors
have grown. Massive street protests have been led by La Plataforma
para la Defensa de la Salud y Educación (Platform for the Defense of
Health and Education), made up of various unions with more than
seventy thousand combined members. Despite attacks by the staunchly
pro-regime media, La Plataforma achieved a huge victory in June
when Hernández backed down and repealed the law
[[link removed]].
It was a watershed moment of popular power against a regime that
needed to deploy the military, when the police alone could not repress
the movement.

On campus, the most important group within the student resistance
is _El Movimiento Estudiantil Universitario _(The University Student
Movement). Formed in 2016, the movement has proven unflinching in the
face of the state security apparatus. For over two and a half years it
has taken over buildings, led mass protests, multiple times shut down
campuses for weeks at a time, and even caused the cancellation of an
entire semester in 2016. The MEU has provoked the ire of the political
class, represented by the closely protected former rector Castellanos
herself, who accused the group of acts of terror and being of the
extreme left.

These accusations have not prevented the MEU from winning wide support
among the student body. The MEU fights for the democratization of
UNAH, while joining its struggle with national-level action,
supporting the wider social movement against the neoliberal ruling
class. The MEU has been leading the student movement mainly through
calling for large-scale student mobilization. A flashpoint was reached
on June 24, when the military police invaded the UNAH campus and fired
live ammunition at students. Remarkably, no students lost their lives,
despite a number of serious injuries. Still, the protests are refusing
to stand down.

It is important to understand that a key part of the spirit of UNAH is
its autonomy. It’s so important that it is part of the
university’s name and identity, National _Autonomous _University
of Honduras. When the Military Police entered the campus and fired
upon students, it was not just a disgraceful act of government
repression against students, it was a direct _violation _of UNAH’s
autonomy. In every sense of the word, it was an invasion.

Consequently, much of the fight has been for control of the
all-powerful Consejo Universitario (University Council) which has the
power to name a board which in turn appoints the executive of the
university in the rector. The students, teachers, and administrators
each have a 33 percent share in the voting makeup of the council. The
student movement is now trying to ally itself with the teachers to
have a clear majority control. Across the diversity of the student
movement is one common desire: _verdadera representación _(true
representation). For one senior student organizer who prefers to
remain anonymous, this means the decentralization of power. To this
student leader, one of the most pertinent problems is that
the _frentes universitarios_(student groups) have “sold out” and
belong to the political parties who try and use them for power and
leverage within the country’s most important educational
institution. In plain words, “_estan jodiendo a
nosotros” _(“they’re fucking us”).

In Honduras, to oppose the government has become dangerous. The state
apparatus has made it clear that any calls of “_Fuera_ _JOH!_”
(“Out JOH!”) will not be tolerated. The regime is protected by a
national media that discredits any form of anti-government resistance
and an international media whose only coverage of the country is to
demonize its most vulnerable people who flee extreme violence and
poverty. Under this imperial shield, Hernández is employing state
violence and repression without fear of consequence.

Emboldened by Washington’s unequivocal support of the 2009 coup and
the fraudulent 2017 election, as well as the 2015 constitutional
change to allow presidential reelection, Hernández knows he is safe
to apply a whatever-means-necessary approach to the mass protests that
are now beginning to radicalize and call for his resignation. With the
recent revelation that the president has been involved in drug
trafficking with his brother — who is currently under arrest in the
United States — “to maintain and enhance their power,” Honduras
is on the precipice of becoming a narco-state. This makes it harder
for the United States to publicly support Hernández. But when push
comes to shove, he remains Washington’s man.

Now more than ever, the Honduran people are in need of international
solidarity. The crisis they are suffering epitomizes the very worst of
imperialism and neoliberalism. Hernández, with his known links to
drug trafficking and criminal gangs, employs the state apparatus
against his own people while corrupting democratic institutions to
further entrench himself and the oligarchy that supports him in power.
All this while unleashing a torrent of privatization attempts against
the most vulnerable people. In response, students and workers are
valiantly leading the fight. All who believe in anti-imperialism and
power from below must show their solidarity with the Honduran people
in this critical time.

_Tom Sullivan is an Australian freelance journalist
[[link removed]] based in Mexico City._

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