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The Learning Curve of the Teachers vs. the Honduras Coup By Al Giordano

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Joanne98 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Aug-23-09 02:44 PM
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The Learning Curve of the Teachers vs. the Honduras Coup By Al Giordano

AUGUST 23, 2009, SABA, HONDURAS: The classrooms were empty but the assembly hall was full. Last Thursday afternoon, more than two hundred striking schoolteachers and other members of the civil resistance from the northeastern state of Coln gathered at the city high school to chart their next steps.

Compaeros, are you tired? a speaker called out.


Are you going to go home?


Are we going to win?


They marched out of the assembly hall, clapping, cheering, and started their engines. More than eighty vehicles were counted as they noisily entered the street honking horns, waving anti-coup placards out the windows - for the first of two afternoons, Thursday and Friday, of vehicular caravans against the coup regime. Up and down the main streets of Sab they paraded while resistance coordinator Wilfredo Paz sat down with members of the Narco News team to talk shop.

Today we evaluated our progress to date, he shared. We consider the seven-day march to San Pedro Sula last week a grand success, for the quantity of people who participated, for the solidarity we found in every town along the road where people brought food, drink, shoes and medicines for the marchers, and for the 30,000 participants in the final day of the march in that city. We also notice a deepening of our level of organization that has united us with those in other states.

Periodically during the interview the noisy caravan would pass by to remind all ears that the resistance to the unpopular coup regime simply does not stop.

As we speak, campesino organizations have had the government agricultural bureau offices in Tocoa occupied for nearly 25 days, said Paz. And beginning today every town and city is sending delegations to the capital, Tegucigalpa, to provide information to Judge Balthazar Garzn of Spain, who prosecuted Pinochet for his war crimes in the Chilean coup, and also the Human Rights Commission of the Organization of American States. This is a little difficult because the regime has ordered the bus companies not to rent us transportation so we have to organize other means to get there.

Sab, at 400 kilometers and nine hours drive from Tegucigalpa (a trip that used to be a about an hour shorter until an earthquake last year toppled a highway bridge that allowed a shortcut through the state of Yoro), is almost as far as one can get from the capital and still be in a city. Three other cities in the state of Coln Tocoa, Trujillo and Bonito Oriental are yet a little bit farther out, all toward the northeast corner of Honduras. To travel farther east than that into what is known as the Mosquitia region and the state of Gracias a Dios (the name of the state means Thank God) one needs a four-wheel drive truck to navigate the mud and dirt roadways, or a boat to reach its outposts via the Caribbean sea.

In this tropical banana producing region, the highway blockades of July were of longer duration some for as long as 60 or 70 consecutive hours than in other parts of the country (see also Beln Fernndezs related report from the region, coming later today) and faced less interference from repressive forces. There is more respect here from the police and the Army, Paz explained, and by respect its clear that he means a healthy fear of provoking this population.

Coln like Olancho to the south, and much of eastern Honduras has a farming and ranching populace many of whom possess weapons for hunting and protection. And while the resistance here, too, is nonviolent, the locals do have a nationwide reputation for self-defense. One of the first and biggest stores one sees upon entering Tocoa, population 53,000, is called La Armera The Gunshop - and displays large hand painted images of the weapons and bullets on sale inside. As in the rural regions of the United States, sportsmen are a big part of the culture, as are omnipresent cowboy hats men wear. That this regions civil resistance has remained pacific is evidence of the self-discipline maintained so far by its movements most important sectors.

Helping to lead the resistance in this region are the mayors of its four largest cities: Mayor Adn Fuentes of Tocoas 53,000 citizens, Mayor Adelmo Rivera of Sonaguera (population 34,000), Mayor Luis Lpez of Trujillo (43,000) and Mayor Clemente Cardona of Bonito Oriental (22,000). In the days after the June 28 coup detat, the Armed Forces raided the home of Tocoa Mayor Fuentes, who had been the regional coordinator of the nonbinding referendum campaign for a Constitutional Convention that the coup was designed to prevent coming to a vote that same day.

Luis Agurcia, a coordinator of civil resistance efforts in Trujillo, a public schoolteacher, told us that the Armed Forces had militarized the schools of that city from July 13 to to August 13. Uniformed troops had been sent to each of the schools daily to keep watch on teachers, who have been on strike an average of two or three days per week in protest of the coup. On the days that there were studies, students literally had to navigate around the heavily armed uniformados to walk to and from class. The militarization included the Escuela Normal in Trujillo that prepares 1,300 youths to become schoolteachers and also includes a grade school for 300 younger students whom the teachers-in-training educate as part of their own education.

We brought two attorneys here on Monday, August 10. The Colonel accused me of indoctrinating children. But the lawyers explained to them the law and they backed down. The schools have thus been freed at last of a military presence that itself served, if not as a uniformed indoctrination of schoolchildren, certainly, at minimum, a heavy handed attempt at intimidation.

Schoolteachers throughout Honduras are a backbone of the resistance and, through the national teachers unions and their 57,000 members, a key communications conduit between the local resistances across the country. President Manuel Zelaya forcibly exiled at gunpoint by the coup regime had raised schoolteacher salaries by eight Lempira per hour (about 45 cents). The average schoolteacher works 27 hours a week in the classroom. The sixteen percent pay hike raised an average $71-per-week salary by an extra $12 dollars. By Honduran standards thats an important gain that the teachers consider worth fighting to maintain. They believe the coup regime wants to roll back the gains they and other workers won before Zelaya was kidnapped 56 days ago.

Since the June 28 coup detat, the golpista media has waged a daily smear campaign against the movement with constant accusations undocumented, supported only by rumor and innuendo - that those who march in the streets do so because they are supposedly being paid cash to protest. The source of such funds is inevitably claimed, without a shred of evidence offered, to be the government of Venezuela, and even the embargo-stricken isle of Cuba, the coup regimes sources of much paranoia and obsession. For the schoolteachers, though and indeed among all Honduran workers who saw the minimum wage raised by 60 percent under Zelaya they do have financial interest in defending the elected government from the coup regime. That interest does not come in some shadowy bag of cash, but, rather, is fully and transparently disclosed: the pay raises that they and other sectors of workers won fair and square the democratic way through government action. That also explains why they continue to demonstrate, day after day, that the coup regime is not in control of the country's population.

The gossipmongers that spread those malicious and unproved accusations of a cash-directed movement only demonstrate their own inability to grasp that the self-organization of workers for better pay is not a corruption but, rather, a basic building block of any free society. The pay raises are fully disclosed, and a struggle to defend them is recognized as wholly legitimate by all societies that aspire to be authentically democratic.

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